June 14, 2002

No Bias Against Religious Families

On March 27, 2002, Home School Legal Defense Association reported on a Virginia Continuing Legal Education class for lawyers representing children in abuse or neglect cases (guardians at litem). That class taught lawyers that religious families, along with drug and alcohol abusers, are more likely to abuse or neglect their children than other families. (see Class for Attorneys Identifies Religious Families as Likely Child Abusers).

The printed class materials were prepared by a professional social worker. In a section of the class called "Characteristics of Abusive and Neglectful Families," the social worker identified "Religious and Authoritarian Families" as abusers and defined them as having, "[a] strong focus on male entitlement, with strong church involvement. Parents are frequently elders or ministers in their church, and they use their religious authority, as well as Scripture, to maintain control." This description could be read to apply to many Christian home schooling families (including HSLDA staff) who have traditional, husband-led families and who believe that scripture is inspired by God and is useful for the instruction of children.

On May 2, 2002, HSLDA President, Michael Smith wrote a letter to Chief Justice Harry Carrico of the Virginia Supreme Court, who is the Chair of the Judicial Council of Virginia, the organization responsible for overseeing the class. In the letter, Mr. Smith demonstrated that the class materials were factually inaccurate, unconstitutional and that they threatened the integrity of the juvenile justice system.

Lawyers who represent children in abuse or neglect cases are to represent the best interests of the child. Home school families come to the attention of juvenile authorities from time to time, often due to an official's misunderstanding about home school laws. Imagine the damage that can be caused when a social worker and the child's court-appointed lawyer are officially trained to be more suspicious of religious families than non-religious families.

In his letter, Mr. Smith asked the Judicial Council to correct this problem before the materials were presented again on June 13, 2002. (Re: Standards for attorneys appointed as guardian ad litem)

Chief Justice Carrico promptly responded in writing saying that the Judicial Council had reviewed the class materials and concluded that there was a legitimate question about whether the a professional social worker had based her materials on empirical evidence or scientific authority. Accordingly, the Judicial Council has instructed Virginia CLE to omit the offending segment from its classes and to develop more accurate materials. (see Justice Carrico's letter)

Due to HSLDA's intervention and the Judicial Council's quick response, new guardians ad litem in Virginia will not be taught to view religious families with suspicion. We appreciate the Chief Justice's timely action to correct this inaccurate portrayal of religious families.

HSLDA has encountered social workers and school officials through the years who appear to have the same view as the social worker who taught this class: religious families should be viewed with skepticism as not "normal." In this case, the "religious profiling" was in writing and was being taught as fact to hundreds of attorneys in Virginia who sought to become qualified to be a guardian ad litem, one of the more important players in the juvenile justice system. While the course materials may be fixed, this case points out the need for home schoolers and those in favor of parental rights to be ever vigilant in pressing for the preservation of our liberties.