Sunday, October 16, 2011

Food for Thought


Earlier this year, a parent sued a charter school after claiming they had used religious discrimination towards her child. The principal of the school allegedly undercut the mother’s request to respect their “familial religious practice” of fasting from 7am to 4pm in observance of Lent. The mother claimed that the principal had prevented her from picking the child up during lunch and that he isolated the child and presented her with food. In the end however, under the Color of State Law, it was agreed upon that charter schools are not state actors. During a recent retrial, the court found that the plaintiff adequately pleaded the sincerity of her religious beliefs and had adequately set out an equal protection claim. However, in response the court concluded that the "plaintiff's general reference to a 'familial religious practice', without an explanation of the role and importance of fasting to this religion, is insufficient to allege a sincerely held religious belief."

I personally am in defense of the charter school for this case. I see no valid act of religious discrimination. The school is not forcing the child to eat food, they are simply making sure the child is where they're suppose to be at the appropriate time. One of the issues to examine here is the differentiation between a “right” versus a “privilege”. In this case, I firmly believe, that allowing the child to leave school grounds during the lunch period would serve as a privilege. Therefore, the charter school is not infringing upon the child’s rights of free exercise in any way. They are not attempting to impose on the child’s religion, but rather they are simply instituting school policy. As stated in the Sherbert v Verner case, actions may be regulated if they pose some substantial threat to public safety, peace, or order. In this situation the threat to order would be violated if students were allowed to come and go as they please from school grounds. This could also pose as a potential threat to the student body. Say for instance if a kid leaves and returns to school armed with a weapon, drugs, or any other object that may be deemed dangerous and illegal.

Allowing the child to leave the school during lunch for a religious reason would be unfair treatment. This special treatment could in itself bring forth a number of new lawsuits by other parents of religious denominations who want preferential treatment for their children. Such preferential treatment could also be seen as a violation of the establishment clause, since preferential treatment is being given to those of religious identities over those of nonreligious identities. Therefore, those of religious identities would have a benefit over nonreligious students. This would create a climate for establishment of religion, where religious holidays would be celebrated, practiced, and followed and those of nonreligious backgrounds would be forced to take these days off in honor of these religious practices. In the end, the question comes down to the legality of a charter school to grant privileges to students to break school policy in order to practice their religion. What do you think, does this seem like a “right” or a “privilege” for these students. I for one am not buying the plaintiff’s case. As of now, the case has yet to be decided.

11 comments:

Allison S said...

I disagree with Justin. From this situation it seems that the school was not in fact respecting the family’s religious beliefs. Putting food in front of a young girl who is supposed to be fasting as a part of a religious holiday is entirely unnecessary and shows that the school was purposefully trying to cause a problem. The child should not have been isolated in anyway and since the school was aware of her religion they should understand her reason for skipping lunch that day. Also, I do not think that picking a child up from school is a privilege. A parent has the right to take their child to a doctor’s or dentist appointment and return them back to school, so why should picking them up during lunch to make their child feel more comfortable during a fast any different? I also think there is a difference between allowing a parent pick up their child and letting a child “come and go as they please”. I do not think that it is special treatment for a parent to pick up their child, and if it comes to that the family will lie as to why they are picking up their child. Instead of leaving to feel comfortable because of a religious belief it will be, “Oh she has a doctor’s appointment”. I do believe that the plaintiff is sincere in her beliefs and just wants her child to be able to follow their religion while at school.

Harry R. said...

While I feel that the school acted very inappropriately by isolating the student and presenting her food, I also feel that a specific child should not be excused from school solely to simplify religious actions. The student can fast at school just as easily as she can outside of school as long as no one forces her to eat. The fact that the school tried to do this suggests to me that they may be concerned for her health. If this is the case, the school should have contacted Child Services, not placed food in front of an isolated student.

Sophie K said...

I agree with Harry that a child can fast at school just as easily as she/he can fast at home, but I sympathize with the young girl who probably felt ostracized during lunch. I feel that the school acted inappropriately when presenting the young girl with food, especially if they were aware of her religious beliefs. Undoubtedly, this made her feel uncomfortable, but I don't think the school compromised her free exercise of religion. The young girl was certainly free to fast, she just had to be in the same place as all the other children during lunch time.

Zoey Goldnick said...

As in the case with the drivers license high resolution photos, we had to consider whether or not this truly has an overriding interest and whether this religious exemption would cause danger to other children in brining weapons to school. There is a difference between letting a student wander and releasing them to their parents for a religious observance. In addition, the court ruled in Zorach v. Clausen that released time off of school property for religious reasons is acceptable. If we release children from school for learning purposes, the child should be excused for lunch.

Jack Ness said...

I am with Justin on this argument. I think that the phrase "the school presented the child with food" is probably a little misunderstood. Just because the school asked the child to be at lunch does not mean they force-fed her, or even placed it on a table in front of her. If the parents really want their child to fast, they can teach that at the home. If the kid decided for herself to not fast at school, then it is either not good enough parenting or not a strong enough reason for the child. The school should not have to bend its rules.

Marissa V said...

I also agree with Justin. The child has the option of fasting on school grounds just as the rest of the children have the option to do. Although she feels this is religious discrimination, it truly isn't as it is a public school institution. If the child feels this strongly about being at home during her fasting then perhaps she should be attending a religious school that has the same beliefs.

Sam S said...

I disagree with Justin on this case. Personally, it is commendable that the mother wanted her child to even attend school during a day of fasting. On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in the Jewish religion, Jews fast. Schools allow for Jewish students to not attend school at all on this day due to their religious beliefs. This parent was simply asking for the school to allow her to make the observance of a religious holiday more bearable for her daughter. While she may have not gone about asking the school in the most legal of ways, I do not think that the school had a right to not allow the mother to pick up her daughter during lunch.

Molly Veelguski said...

I agree with Justin on this issue. I do not think it is inappropriate that the school presented the child with food. They were making sure the child would have a meal if the child wanted to eat. Now if the school did not present the child with food, could the parents fight that their child is being starved at school? Also, letting the family recieve an exception to pick up their child during lunch will only result in a slippery slope. If the school allows one child to leave for a religious purpose, they have to let others leave too. I do believe that the plaintiff is sincere in her beliefs, however, the child could simply push away the meal and follow her practice. No one is forcing her to eat. Even though the child most likely felt isolated during these events, I do not believe there was any hindering on her free exercise of religion.

kanderson said...

I definitely think that the school delt with the situation in the wrong manner. I understand the school being concerned with the child's safety (perhaps the parents were preventing the child from eating), but they did not respect the wishes of the family and therefore violated the family's ability to exert their religious freedom. parents pick up their children all the time from school (just cause, for doc appts, for family reasons, because the child doesn't want to be in school), i do not understand why this is any different. and yes, the child is being specialized in this situation, but not by the school or by the law, by their parents. and parents highlight their children all the time. I really can't believe this happened.

Christy said...

I can sympathize with the small girl, that it must have been incredibly uncomfortable to be presented with food when you and your family are fasting during lent. I understand why the school did not allow for her to leave school but I believe the school should have respected her right to free exercise, and allowed her to stay in school but enter a study hall instead. Of course, there is a slippery slope involved and could cause other children to skip lunch, but for this case I believe the school should have allowed other means.

Andrew Lichtenauer said...

I believe the school was in the wrong in this case. First of all, a parent should always have the right to pick his or her child up from school, no matter what the circumstance. To add to this, if it is evident that a family or individual's religious practices are sincere, they should be allowed to practice their religion without hinderance from other parties. If the school in this case were to force the girl to stay in school, they would be violating the free exercise clause.