FW: Student reprimanded for religious absences

Christopher C. Lund chlund1 at hotmail.com
Tue Nov 23 21:32:10 PST 2004


        Putting aside the Indiana Free Exercise Clause, aren't there some 
serious problems here under the ordinary federal Free Exercise Clause as 
well?

        As an initial matter, the principal claims that "[s]tudents are 
allowed [only] five days of excused absences per semester" and that 
"[e]xcused absences include illness with a doctor's note, a death in the 
immediate family, quarantine or court appearance."  I find it hard to 
believe this rule is being enforced in a generally applicable manner.  
Students who miss class more than five times get expelled?  An eleven-year 
old child who has to have surgery or gets mono.  Expelled?  Really?  
Exceptions to such a stringent rule will surely be common -- which the 
Superintendent seems to acknowledge both when she says that the five-absence 
rule "could" (not should or will or must) lead to expulsion and also when 
she hints that the rule might be suspended in times of "emergency."
This is just a scheme of individualized exceptions, isn't it?  With strict 
scrutiny applying -- the real kind of strict scrutiny, not the watered-down 
pre-Smith kind -- how could this rule stand?

        Lastly, looking at the details of the article again, I think the 
disparate treatment is even more obvious than we've been thinking.  At one 
point in the article -- I don't know if it was included in the original 
article clip -- the Superintendent says that while five absences are the 
rule, religious absences can count for only one of them.  ("'The school 
corporation will accept one day off per semester for religious observance,' 
Neal said. 'We already did that for this particular family.'")  So, 
apparently, anyone who wants to take more than a day off a semester for 
religious reasons -- Jewish students with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, 
Christians with Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and these plaintiffs here -- 
must risk expulsion to do so.  Lovely.

          Chris Lund




From: "Volokh, Eugene" <VOLOKH at law.ucla.edu>
Reply-To: Law & Religion issues for Law Academics 
<religionlaw at lists.ucla.edu>
To: <religionlaw at lists.ucla.edu>
Subject: FW: Student reprimanded for religious absences
Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004 09:20:29 -0800

	Any thoughts on this issue?  The Indiana Free Exercise Clause
has been interpreted to require strict scrutiny, City Chapel Evangelical
Free Inc. v. City of South Bend, 744 N.E.2d 443 (Ind. 2001), though I
know of no cases that have dealt with the government's role as K-12
educator.

	Eugene


http://www.thetimesonline.com/articles/2004/11/21/news/lake_county/2e51b
ae417129d4486256f52007f530f.txt

The parent of a sixth-grade Lowell Middle School student says the
Tri-Creek School Corp. has threatened to expel her child for religious
beliefs.

Ruth Scheidt said middle school officials forced her 12-year-old son to
sign a letter last month stating he understood if he missed another day
of school for any reason before the end of the semester in January, he
could be expelled. The family had just returned from an out-of-state,
eight-day religious observance called the Feast of Tabernacles,
celebrated by the United Church of God. . . .

Under Indiana law there is no ruling as to whether children are to be
excused for religious purposes, Neal said. The Indiana Department of
Education holds firmly that it is not a reason to excuse students under
Indiana law. . . .

Students are allowed five days of excused absences per semester, Neal
said.

Excused absences include illness with a doctor's note, a death in the
immediate family, quarantine or court appearance.

"Occasionally there may be an emergency in a family," Neal said. "The
principal may excuse a day to do that."

After more than five absences, students must sign a letter acknowledging
they understand they could be expelled. Some states provide a list of
approved absences that are religious-based, but Indiana does not, Neal
said. . . .

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