Home-schooling laws face religious protests

The state requires detailed record-keeping.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- On any given school day, the five Newborn children might be studying statistics at a local college, learning Spanish from a tutor or watching a procedure at a veterinarian's office.
It's part of a curriculum set by their parents, who home school their children because they consider it a calling from God. It all must be carefully documented in a report each year to their local school superintendent.
In cases being closely watched by home-schooling advocates across the country, the Newborns and a second Pennsylvania family have filed lawsuits under the state Religious Freedom Protection Act challenging the state's home-school reporting requirements.
Challenges allowed
The act allows people to challenge any laws they believe impose "substantial burdens upon the free exercise of religion without compelling justification." Similar statutes were passed in 11 other states after a federal religious freedoms law was declared unconstitutional in 1997.
"God is in our math, God is in our science, God is in our history. Yet we have to submit to a government agent for approval," Maryalice Newborn said.
In Pennsylvania, about 25,000 pupils are home schooled. Nationally, the number has reached nearly 1 million and is rising, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Pennsylvania's home-schooling regulations are among the most stringent in the nation, requiring detailed record-keeping.
Perfect vehicle
Darren Jones, staff attorney for the Purcellville, Va.-based Home School Legal Defense Association, who is involved both cases, said Pennsylvania's Religious Freedom act is the perfect vehicle for the lawsuits.
He said parents who choose to home school their children tend to be religious and have many children, making reporting requirements more cumbersome.
"We have no problem with some sort of registration, although we don't think it's necessary," Jones said. "But the fact is these are parents who are trying to do what's best for their kids."
Marci Hamilton, a church-state scholar at Cardozo Law School at New York City's Yeshiva University, said it will be hard to prove that home-schooling regulations create a substantial burden.
"These regulations are not made for religious home-schoolers. They are just regulations where states are concerned about whether the child is being cared for and educated," Hamilton said.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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