Associate Justice Robert Lynn
The New Hampshire Supreme Court today affirmed a decision ordering a young girl into a public school system because her “vigorous defense of her religious beliefs to [her] counselor suggests strongly that she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider any other point of view,” but the justices denied their ruling had anything to do with religion.
“While the case has religious overtones, it is not about religion,” claimed the opinion authored by Associate Justice Robert Lynn and joined by Chief Justice Linda Dalianis and Associate Justices James Duggan, Gary Hicks and Carol Conboy.
“We affirm the [lower court’s] decision on the narrow basis that it represents a sustainable exercise of the trial court’s discretion to determine the educational placement that is in daughter’s best interests,” the justices wrote.
Lawyers with the Alliance Defense Fund, who had argued in the case that the clear religious bias against Christianity expressed by a guardian ad litem and adopted by the court was reason to reverse the decision, said the justices ignored the evidence.
“Parents have a fundamental right to make educational choices for their children,” said allied attorney John Anthony Simmons in a statement released by the organization. “Courts can settle disputes, but they cannot legitimately order a child into a government-run school on the basis that her religious views need to be mixed with other views.
“That’s precisely what the lower court admitted it was doing,” Simmons said. “The lower court held the Christian faith of this mother and daughter against them. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ignored this issue and wrote this off as a ‘parent versus parent’ issue without recognizing the very real underlying threat to religious liberty.”
The high court, while claiming religion did not play a role in the decision, cited statements from a court-chosen guardian ad litem who said, “My recommendations have been somewhat swayed by the way she – the way her religion causes [daughter] to shut out points of view and areas of consideration, and shut out the thinking about points of view,” and that “the rigidity of her mom’s religious beliefs and how that orders her thinking really causes me to believe that [daughter] would be best served by starting public school as soon as possible.”
Chief Justice Linda Dalianis
That’s not about religion, the justices wrote.
“We conclude that the GAL was expressing her concern about daughter’s ability to mentally process, as well as appropriately communicate with others who have differing viewpoints.”
The ruling noted the guardian ad litem appointed to consider the child’s education recommended “that daughter attend a traditional school beginning in the winter of her fifth grade year.”
The mother appealed, with help from ADF, because Marital Master Michael Garner had reasoned that the girl’s “vigorous defense of her religious beliefs to [her] counselor suggests strongly that she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider any other point of view.”
Garner’s beliefs were adopted by Judge Lucinda V. Sadler of the Family Division of the Judicial Court for the Belknap County in Laconia after testimony from a guardian ad litem that the child “appeared to reflect her mother’s rigidity on questions of faith” and that the girl’s interests “would be best served by exposure to a public school setting” and “different points of view at a time when she must begin to critically evaluate multiple systems of belief … in order to select, as a young adult, which of those systems will best suit her own needs”
The dispute arose as part of a modification of a parenting plan for the girl. The parents, Martin Kurowski and Brenda Kurowski, divorced in 1999 when their daughter was a newborn. The mother has homeschooled her daughter since first grade with texts that have met state standards.
Associate Justice Carol Conboy
In addition to homeschooling, the girl attended supplemental public school classes and also has been involved in a variety of extra-curricular sports activities, ADF reported.
According to court documents, the guardian ad litem earlier had told the mother, “If I want her in public school, she’ll be in public school.”
The documents also reveal that the guardian ad litem had an anti-Christian bias, telling the mother at one point she wouldn’t even look at homeschool curriculum.
“I don’t want to hear it. It’s all Christian-based,” she said, documents show.
The high court simply adopted the philosophy of the GAL.
“The GAL testified to a situation in which daughter became angry with her therapist when the therapist did not read certain religious materials provided by daughter and ‘closed down in the [therapy] session,'” the judges explained. “The GAL testified that a public school environment would offer daughter opportunities to navigate experiences in both social and academic situations with others who have differing viewpoints.”
Citing the religious testimony itself, the justices, who had written that the case was not about religion, said “the evidence concerning daughter’s experiences in her home school and public school settings, along with the evidence demonstrating the impact of her religious convictions upon her interaction with others, including her father, provide an objective basis for the trial court’s decision.”
The high court, in affirming the trial court decision that the girl needed to be exposed to “perspectives” other than the Christian teaching she experienced at home, said the conclusion was sound.
“The trial court did not express a belief that daughter needed to be exposed to other religions that were contrary to or different from the beliefs of her parents,” the justices said. “Instead, it considered the importance of daughter having the ability to openly communicate with others who have a different viewpoint.”
“We reject mother’s contention that the trial court expressed disapproval of her actions in encouraging daughter to share her religious views,” said the justices.
But even they could not deny the mother’s Christian teachings during her homeschooling efforts play a significant role.
“There is no doubt that mother’s and child’s religious convictions have been a pervasive part of the parties’ school placement dispute,” the judges wrote. “The trial court also remarked that daughter’s strong adherence to religious convictions that align with her mother’s beliefs likely was the effect of ‘spend[ing] her school time with her mother.'”
Simmons earlier told WND the idea of a judge ordering a child into a public school for having a “vigorous” Christian faith is a “dangerous precedent.”
“We maintain the [court] allowed itself to get into a religious debate between the parents. And they punished my client, the mother and her daughter,” he said.