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Pennsylvania

September 15, 2006
Combs, et al, v. Homer-Center School District, et al
Six families claim religious exemption from home education law

Hankin v. Bristol Township School District
Filed: April 19, 2004

Combs v. Homer-Center School District
Filed: September 23, 2004

Prevish v. Norwin School District
Filed: September 27, 2004

Newborn v. Franklin Regional School District
Filed: February 5, 2005

Nelson v. Titusville Area School District
Filed: February 28, 2005

Weber v. Dubois Area School District
Filed: March 24, 2004

The Pennsylvania home education law, Act 169, which was passed in 1988 following the HSLDA case, Jeffery v. O’Donnell, is currently the most restrictive homeschool law in the United States. Based on the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act, numerous families filed notice with their school districts that due to their religious convictions that God had given them full and exclusive authority for their children’s education, they would not be providing the documentation required by Act 169. While some school districts accepted this, others initiated truancy proceedings and social service investigations against the families. HSLDA then filed a total of six cases (later consolidated into one) in federal court.

On December 8, 2005, the Court ruled that Act 169 does not impose a “substantial burden” on the free exercise of religion. To bring the district court case to a close in a manner that would be fit for appellate review, the district court judge ordered a second round of motions in his court. He gave express permission to HSLDA to point out to him in our round-two briefing how his round-one opinion regarding “substantial burden” went astray. The court again ruled against HSLDA, granting summary judgment to the school districts on May 25, 2006.

On December 8, 2005, the Court ruled that Act 169 does not impose a “substantial burden” on the free exercise of religion. On August 21, 2008, the federal questions in this decision were upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The questions dealing with the RFPA were remanded to state court. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case. We are returning to state court to continue litigation on the issue of whether Pennsylvania’s restrictive homeschool law violates Pennsylvania’s Religious Freedom Protection Act (RFPA).

Last Updated: May 6, 2010