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The Virginia Taliban

Parents in Virginia can prevent their children from getting any education at all if they want to, provided their reasons are religious. What a great arrangement.

Nearly 7,000 Virginia children whose families have opted to keep them out of public school for religious reasons are not required to get an education, the only children in the country who do not have to prove they are being home-schooled or otherwise educated, according to a study.

Virginia is the only state that allows families to avoid government intrusion once they are given permission to opt out of public school, according to a report from the University of Virginia’s School of Law. It’s a law that is defended for promoting religious freedom and criticized for leaving open the possibility that some children will not be educated.

 

The possibility? The near-certainty. The regulation of home schooling is appallingly lax in most states, and the result is children whose education consists of watching tv.

Home-school advocates say the law is essential to preserving the rights of families who believe that any state control of their children’s education would violate the tenets of their faith. It takes on particular importance in the state where Thomas Jefferson helped define religious freedom as a bedrock principle for the country.

“They feel that their deity has given them that responsibility,” said Amy Wilson of the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. For such families, she said, to have to file paperwork and evidence of progress would put them in a crisis of conscience.

So they get to stunt their children’s lives. Fabulous.

Block became interested in the statute years ago, when a teenager asked for help because her parents had requested a religious exemption from compulsory attendance when she was a little girl, and she later wanted to go to school. It wasn’t until Block and a research assistant began looking into the 1976 law that he realized it was unique.

Once parents in Virginia are granted a religious exemption, they’re no longer legally obligated to educate their children.

The statute does not allow exemptions for political or philosophical beliefs “or a merely personal moral code,” but the beliefs do not have to be part of a mainstream religion.

“We were surprised at how regularly the exemption is granted,” Block said. “School systems almost never deny it.” And, according to a survey of superintendents in the commonwealth, school leaders rarely have further contact with the families after granting an exemption.

Sorry, kids. It’s the free exercise clause. Have a nice life; bye!

Comments

  1. smrnda says

    It’s always bothered me (and I know I’m not the only person) that somehow if your belief is part of a religion, it gets extra-special treatment but if it’s a personal moral or philosophical belief, no such luck. It’s almost as if the law is biased against people who do their thinking for themselves, or that ridiculous beliefs somehow have to be taken seriously once they grow into large, tax-exempt organizations.

    Plus, giving parents the right to deny their kids an education is putting the parents personal beliefs ahead of children’s rights, but then again, we’re the only nation aside from Somalia who won’t sign onto the Rights of the Child declaration.

  2. steve84 says

    In the US children don’t have any rights. There is no right to an education. Any effort to remedy that (such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) is vigorously opposed by religious fanatics.

  3. Sercee says

    This morning I saw a related application of exemption due to belief that I actually agreed with: A friend’s daughter (14-15 years old) had a science class today where the students would kill and dissect a frog. The daughter didn’t want to do it because she’s vehemently against killing and doesn’t want to kill anything. So, my friend took her out of that class and they went for a long walk in the park instead. Her daughter made a deal to make up the assignment in a different way. In a class in the near future they’re dissecting cow eyeballs. She’s still going to attempt that, recognizing its purpose and value, but neither of them believe there’s any academic value in being forced to kill something.

    Being pulled out because your religion says “I don’t like it” is so very wrong to me. Not wanting to murder an animal seems like one of few good reasons.

  4. DaveL says

    I don’t believe there should be such a thing as a religious exemption. The way I see it, any government interest that is not sufficiently compelling to overcome your right to free religious expression likewise fails to supersede your right to free expression in general. For instance, if Sikh children can carry blunted knives to school, it should be because the knives are blunted, not because the children are Sikhs, and their non-Sikh classmates should likewise be able to use a butterknife at lunch by the same rationale. To do otherwise privileges superstition over reasoned secular ethics.

  5. Cuttlefish says

    “School systems almost never deny it.”

    It would surprise me greatly if some systems did not actually encourage it, as a way of getting rid of poorly performing students who are messing up their school’s ratings.

  6. jose says

    If education is considered a right, then the government has the obligation to ensure nobody denies it, even parents. Your parents can’t decide your rights, you’re a person first and a son/daughter second.

  7. says

    I do know a very religious couple who home-schooled all their kids because the did not want the merest chance of a possibility that they would get presented with the theory of evolution. I suppose that involved pretty close supervision of their intake of ideas through the media as well.

    In their own small way, they were trying to set up a mini absolutist state.

    PS: I just had a look via Google News this morning at a story in the UK Daily Telegraph about the wave of embassy stormings being perpretated by Islamists in the ME. Reading the comment thread reminded me vividly of B&W.

    They do say (after O. Wilde) that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But gravitation is another level up.

  8. says

    I do know a very religious couple who home-schooled all their kids because the did not want the merest chance of a possibility that they would get presented with the theory of evolution. I suppose that involved pretty close supervision of their intake of ideas through the media as well.

    In their own small way, they were trying to set up a mini absolutist state.

    PS: I just had a look via Google News this morning at a story in the UK Daily Telegraph about the wave of embassy stormings being perpretated by Islamists in the ME. Reading the comment thread reminded me vividly of B&W.

    They do say (after O. Wilde) that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But gravitation is another level up, even if unconscious.

  9. Jeremy Shaffer says

    If this law has been around since 1976 I wonder if there is a way to track any correlation between those children that have been exempted and their dependency on state welfare programs later in life?

    At any rate, I’m pretty tired of “parental rights” being screamed from the rooftops in these discussions. How about we start talking about parential responsibility instead. Particularly in the areas about raising children that are productive and contributing members of the larger society rather than just simple- minded clones.

  10. steve84 says

    @Jeremy Shaffer
    True, but that’s so not how fundies see children. For them children are blank slates that can be filled with any ideas and trained like animals to do whatever the parents want. They see their children as carbon copies of themselves and not individuals with their own personalities and desires.

  11. smrnda says

    The idea that parents own their children seems to be pretty popular in the States, partly because of the basic conservative talking point that the family = good and The State = bad, and that when parents lock their kids in the house and force-feed them dogma and beat them into submission, that’s an expression of *freedom* and when a school exposes kids to a variety of viewpoints on social and moral issues and teaches them accurate science and history it’s *Statist Tyranny*.

  12. Shaker Srinivasan says

    The First Amendment states:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [bolding mine]

    Clearly, religion is singled out for special treatment, actually more so in the Establishment Clause than in the Free Exercise Clause. The latter is weakened by similar privileges accorded to all forms of speech and assembly.

    As far as I know, this is the only place where god/religion appears in the Constitution of the US of A. My question is if we were to remove the word “religion” entirely, how should we rephrase the Establishment Clause? Any thoughts, parallels from other constitutions?

  13. iknklast says

    I have always had a problem with translating parent’s religious freedom into treatment of kids. The kids are not being given freedom to choose, but instead are assumed to be the property of their parents. They are not. They are people in their own right, and this whole argument that “parents have a right to bring up their kids in their own religion” is one of the most bogus I have ever heard. When I was little, it was assumed my parents had a right to beat me with an electric cord for no damn good reason. We don’t believe that anymore, but we still believe we have a “right” to bring our children up to be carbon copies of us.

    I don’t think we have an automatic right to bring our kids up atheist, either. I think our responsibility is to teach them how to think critically, and present them with various philosophical and scientific knowledge. In short, educate them the best we know how. I didn’t bring my son up atheist – I brought him up without God being a major part of life, taught him to think for himself, and he was atheist before I was. The religious don’t dare do that, because the possibility exists that the kids might not pick Mom and Dad’s particular god to worship – or any god at all. Sounds like they don’t have much faith in the universal truth.

  14. Tony •King of the Hellmouth• says

    “They feel that their deity has given them that responsibility,”

    Their deity tells them that genocide is acceptable, queers and women should be stoned and Noah rode a dinosaur.
    I don’t trust him to teach them relativity.

  15. Tony •King of the Hellmouth• says

    Ian:

    I do know a very religious couple who home-schooled all their kids because the did not want the merest chance of a possibility that they would get presented with the theory of evolution.

    I’m sure they understood evolution well enough to falsify it, eh?

  16. Tony •King of the Hellmouth• says

    iknklast:

    Sounds like they don’t have much faith in the universal truth.

    Children are born without a god belief.
    If they’re raised without one, and are taught critical thinking skills, as well as the value of logic, reason, philosophy, and science, I can see how that would fit with someone raising their child atheist.

  17. mikeym says

    As far as I know, this is the only place where god/religion appears in the Constitution of the US of A.

    Shaker, there’s Article VI, which actually predates the First Amendment:

    “…but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

  18. iknklast says

    Tony:
    “If they’re raised without one, and are taught critical thinking skills, as well as the value of logic, reason, philosophy, and science, I can see how that would fit with someone raising their child atheist.”

    Sort of the point I was making. That’s what happened with my son, and he was presented with the belief of his grandparents, aunts and uncles, and school buddies fairly frequently. Teaching critical thinking is a good antidote against the poison being fed in the form of religion and pseudoscience throughout society.

    The interesting thing is, god was so unimportant in our lives that neither my husband nor I knew the other was atheist until 20+ years after our divorce, when we took our son out to dinner the night before his wedding. We were both apatheists; neither of us is apathetic anymore.

  19. says

    Jeremy Schaffer
    I prefer the idea of parental privileges, not rights

    iknklast

    I don’t think we have an automatic right to bring our kids up atheist, either. I think our responsibility is to teach them how to think critically, and present them with various philosophical and scientific knowledge.

    Well, I’m not going to lie to my child when she asks “is there a god?” I won’t tell her any wishy-washy about “some people believe in one, some people don’t an oh it’s all the same yadda yadda”. Because, lets say it aloud: People who believe in Jahwe are simply wrong, end of story.
    But I’m planning to start a project on “creation myths” with her before she starts school next year.

  20. says

    Tony,

    The people in question spend so much time in Bible study, I honestly doubt they could give anyone an even halfway credible ballsup of modern evolutionary theory if they tried. ‘They say we all came from apes’ would at a guess be as much as they could or would incline to do.

    I have invariably found it to be a total waste of time even trying to start the gentlest of debates with such people.

    The father of a friend of my youth was a fundamentalist Christian who not only rejected modern biology (while knowing absolutely bugger-all about it), but also believed that the Earth was flat. Why? Because another fundamentalist had satisfied him that the Bible said it was flat. QED.

    I consider having known him to be the most enriching experience. But I doubt the converse was true.

  21. Rodney Nelson says

    Ian MacDougall #23

    I have invariably found it to be a total waste of time even trying to start the gentlest of debates with such people.

    This has been my experience as well. “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” is difficult to refute.

  22. Shaker Srinivasan says

    @ mikeym
    Thanks for the pointer. Searched for the noun, didn’t occur to me to search for adjective :(

  23. ezraresnick says

    Here’s another crazy bit from the Washington Post article:

    In Fairfax County, which reported nearly 500 children who had been granted the religious exemption as of the 2011-12 school year, parents and children older than 14 must submit a letter explaining their religious beliefs, and letters of support vouching for the authenticity of their beliefs.

    Steven Staples, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, said that once families have written to the district to request the exemption, superintendents tend to honor the families’ wishes. “Most folks who choose religious exemption have some very strongly held beliefs that we want to respect,” Staples said.

    I wonder if they would honor and respect folks who very strongly believed in beating their children? Regardless of how many letters they submitted vouching for the “authenticity” of their beliefs?

    (I’ve written more about this here.)

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