The Home School Court Report
Vol. XXV
No. 1
Cover
January/February
2009

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MICHIGAN

Twins Seek Reinstatement of Social Security Benefits

Case: Crane Family v. Social Security Administration
Filed: March 18, 2008

by Nicholas Bolzman

When twins John and Jane Crane (names changed to protect privacy) turned 18 last March, they were notified by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that their benefits would be halted because they were no longer full-time students. Since they were still being homeschooled, Mrs. Crane contacted Home School Legal Defense Association for help in appealing this decision.

HSLDA submitted an appeal to SSA on behalf of the family, explaining that John and Jane were in full compliance with Michigan homeschool law and that their benefits should not be terminated. Then we began the multi-month wait that is often associated with such appeals.

Shortly thereafter, we discovered that the SSA was unable to reinstate the benefits because they had lost the information we had sent; so we submitted it a second time. After several months and multiple attempts to get in contact with the agency, HSLDA Attorney Darren Jones visited the local SSA office to see if he could speed up the process by appearing in person. Once there, he was told that the benefits were being reinstated. Apparently, the agent reviewing the case had, in spite of our explanation, misunderstood Michigan law. Finally, the confusion was worked out, and the family’s benefits were reinstated.

PENNSYLVANIA

Third Circuit Denies Free Exercise

Case: Combs v. Homer-Center School District et al.
Filed: February 2004–05

by Nicholas Bolzman

After months of waiting, we finally received a ruling in the Pennsylvania free exercise case from the United States Court of Appeal for the Third Circuit. Unfortunately, it was not quite the result we were hoping for.

As background on this case, in 2004 and 2005, six homeschooling families filed suit against their school districts, claiming that the highly restrictive home education law of Pennsylvania violates their religious freedom. After almost two years of litigation, the U.S. District Court ruled against the combined six families in May of 2006. Home School Legal Defense Association appealed the decision to the Third Circuit, and Mike Farris presented oral arguments in November 2007. In August 2008, the Third Circuit dismissed the federal claims and remanded the state claims to state court.

The first question before the court was whether the statute violated the families’ First Amendment right of free exercise of religion. The court ruled against the families, asserting that the statute in question did not present enough of a burden on the families’ religion for them to claim a violation. These cases have been much harder to win since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith, where the Court ruled that infringements on free exercise of religion were permissible as long as they applied to everyone equally.

The second question involved state law. As a result of the Smith decision and the legal fallout from it, the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Religious Freedom Protection Act in 2002, creating state protection for free exercise, a right no longer fully recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court. Here the Third Circuit declined to rule and instead sent the case back to state court.

Pending Cases

AL B Family v. Social Security Administration

AL D Family v. Social Security Administration

AZ Loudermilk Family v. Administration for Children, Youth and Families

CA M Family v. County of San Bernardino

FL R Family v. Dept. of Veteran Affairs

KS In re EG

KS T Family v. Social Security Administration

MS C Family v. Department of Veterans Affairs

NY In re MD

OH Dept. of Job and Family Services

TN C Family v. Dept. of Children’s Services

VA S Family v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management

WA H Family v. Social Security Administration

Pennsylvania RFPA Cases

Combs v. Homer-Center School District
Hankin v. Bristol Township School District
Nelson v. Titusville Area School District
Newborn v. Franklin Regional School District
Penn-Trafford School District v. B Family
Prevish v. Norwin School District
Weber v. Dubois Area School District


About the author

Nicholas Bolzman is a litigation assistant at HSLDA.