Saturday, August 07, 2010

Part 2: What is Religious Exemption?

Link to Part 1

In this part of the series, I want to simply lay out as clearly as I can, from a layman's perspective, what the provision known as "religious exemption" is before I start digging into the heart of the matter.

Religious Exemption, simply put, is just that--an exemption from something that the state requires because that requirement infringes on an individual's ability to freely exercise his or her religion, whatever that may be.  In essence, it recognizes that the right of an individual's free exercise of religion supersedes the state's interest in educating him or her. The law in VA states
 A school board shall excuse from attendance at school any pupil who, together with his parents, by reason of bona fide religious training or belief is conscientiously opposed to attendance at school.” § 22.1-254(B)(1). Homeschoolers may receive an exemption under this statute according to § 22.1-254.1(D). This exempts them from all requirements under the home school law. § 22.1-254 (H)(5). (taken from HSLDA's Legal analysis page)
Home Educators Association of Virginia gives the following advice to families seeking religious exemption:
The courts have established that the only true test of bona fide religious beliefs is whether or not a family demonstrates through their life-style that God is supreme in every area. You must have a conviction that it would be a sin to send your child to school, and that it would never be an option to do so.
I will admit that the last line of this tripped us up for a year in our decision to file for exemption.  Perhaps that was good--we did not make this decision lightly. I wrestled with the concept of it being a sin to send our children to public school.  Is that the case?  Do I think that it would be a sin for me to send our children to public school?  What do I think of other Christians who send their kids to public school?  A friend challenged my thinking this way, "Are you saying by doing this that all Christians are sinning by sending their children to school?"  Not at all.  I am not the judge of what God has called any individual to in raising their children, nor am I the judge of where they are in their parenting journey.  Nevertheless, I know what God has called me to, and if I were to ignore the call that God has placed on our family and take the route of putting my children in public school, I would be out of God's will.   This is a question of conviction and commitment.  Am I willing to walk away and close the door on the option of putting my children in school?  This has to work.  Does attendance at public school infringe on the free exercise of my religion in any way?  This I know--that it would certainly challenge our ability to fully train our children according to our convictions, and I do know that I will be held accountable for that when I face judgement before God.  Therefore, for our purposes, we have no desire for the secular state to be present on any level in our homeschooling, and to do so would violate our free exercise of religion.  I will explain why we believe this to be true in the next part of this series.

If when the School board meets in September my religious exemption letter is approved, I will then be exempt from the law which states that I must send my children to school to be educated in a way that the state has deemed appropriate.  I will no longer need to annually notify the state of my intent to educate our children at home, I will no longer need to submit proof of progress, and (if I understand this correctly) I will not even be considered among the statistics of homeschoolers, but rather counted among people who have applied for exemption.  We enter a different category entirely.

Here are some links to other sites that have helped me to understand exactly what religious exemption is.

The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers - a very clear, neutral explanation of how Virginians can utilize this provision.
The First Amendment Center  helps define the challenges inherent in religious exemptions, in this case vaccines, but references the topics of parental rights and compulsory education.
e-notes has a very helpful analysis of religious exemption from compulsory education, and examines different legal case studies which are both very interesting and helpful.
Home Educators Association of Virginia - A Christian organization for VA homeschoolers. Provides very thorough analysis of all of the homeschooling laws in the state.
Home School Legal Defense Association - There is a page / pdf for download that explains the VA laws, but you must be a member in order to access their suggestion packet for people who are actually pursuing exemption.

I hope this is a helpful explanation.  What follows in the next section is the why?  Why do I need this?  Why would someone want to take advantage of this right?  There are a lot of "if's," but if you find yourself resonating with them, you may want to consider religious exemption for your family. 


  1. Resonating is the right word. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, as well as your intents. When the time finally comes, action becomes necessary, it's easier sometimes, to just go with the flow. I'm finding myself reaching back to my first thoughts, the ideals and embracing them even when it's difficult.

  2. thank you for your thoughts. My hope is that we are taking action before it's necessary, and thereby be prepared if "the time" comes.

  3. That was a really wonderful post. We filed for the exemption when we decided to homeschool and we wrestled with the decision as well. Your post was so well thought out and truly echoed so much of what we went through. Thanks so much!


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