Virginia School District Repeals Intrusive Religious Belief Policy

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A school board in Virginia has repealed a policy that would have asked 14-year-old students in the district to be interviewed by the board about their religious beliefs.

The Goochland County School Board approved the policy in 2013 geared at children who want to be homeschooled.  In order to do so, a statement of religious beliefs must be provided to the school board.  The board maintains the right to bring in the child and a parent for a hearing.

For decades now the state has had a religious exemption statute, believing parents have the right to decide on the upbringing and education of their children.  The statute gives parents the right to homeschool their children without reporting to the state if there in an objection to schooling outside the home based on “bona fide religious training or belief.”

However, the Goochland County School Board decided parents must in fact submit their religious beliefs in reference to homeschooling their children.  In addition, the board retains the right to require children between the ages of 14 and 18 to come before the school board and be interviewed about their religious beliefs.

The policy, which directly violates the religious freedom statutes in the state as well as the US Constitution, has no effect on Virginia law, said the Home School Legal Defense Association.  The policy also violates another Virginia statute from 2013, which states, “a parent has a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child,” writes Matthew Clark for ACLJ.

According to state law, children may receive religious training at home without the need to defend their beliefs.

However, School Board Chairperson Michael Payne maintains the legality of the policy, commenting on the vagueness of the state law.  He is asking the General Assembly to clarify the law for the board.  Payne continued to add that the school board would review the policy at its next meeting though, and invited the public to come make comments, reports Melissa Hipolit for WTVR.

Many parents in the state who have decided to homeschool their children for religious reasons are not happy with the policy.  Hundreds turned out for the recent school board meeting that reviewed the policy.

“For a 14-year-old to be threatened to have to come before the school board to explain or justify his or her religious beliefs?” parent Kevin Hoeft said.

After listening to the concerns of the public, the board voted to repeal the policy.  There will be another vote at the next board meeting, but parents were promised the vote would yield the same result.  Letters sent out asking for a statement from children about religious beliefs have been suspended until the results from the final vote are in.