[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruled [decision, PDF] Thursday that a Pennsylvania law imposing reporting and curriculum review requirements on parents who home school their children does not violate federal freedom of religion protections. The case was brought by six families who had argued that Act 169 [text], the state law requiring the reviews, illegally burdened their right to freely exercise their religion. The appeals court disagreed and rejected claims the families had brought under the First and Fourteenth amendments [LII backgrounders], as well as the Civil Rights Act [text], saying the regulation did not impose an increased burden on these families:
Act 169 is a neutral law of general applicability. It neither targets religious practice nor selectively imposes burdens on religiously motivated conduct. Instead, it imposes the same requirements on parents who home-school for secular reasons as on parents who do so for religious reasons. Furthermore, nothing in the record suggests Commonwealth school officials discriminate against religiously motivated home education programs (e.g., denying approval of home education programs because they include faith-based curriculum materials). [sic]The court ordered that the families' remaining claim, that Act 169 violated Pennsylvania's 2002 Religious Freedom Protection Act [text], be remanded to state court.
Religious freedoms in the US have long been a prominent concern, and in February 2007, former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales initiated [transcript; JURIST report] the First Freedom Project (FFP) [official website], a Department of Justice (DOJ) initiative aimed at stricter enforcement of laws against religious discrimination and educating the public about their rights in this area. As part of the program, the DOJ held training seminars [DOJ materials] across the US, and the FFP website hosted instructions on how to file a religious discrimination complaint [DOJ materials]. The program was prompted by a DOJ report [text] released earlier that month, describing how its Civil Rights Division [official website] had "dramatically increased enforcement" of religious discrimination laws between 2001 and 2006.