Goochland County Takes First Step to Rescind Troublesome Religious Exemption Policy


January 15, 2015 




After 4-1/2 hours of listening to testimony from homeschool parents, the Goochland County School Board made the decision to repeal the religious exemption (RE) policy and suspend all action against religiously exempt parents who were facing serious penalties.


The homeschooling parents of Goochland County are to be commended. Their appeals to the school board were well-reasoned, articulate, and passionate, and they showed a thorough understanding of the law and parents' rights. The board saw loving, caring parents who were willing to stand for religious freedom. The overwhelming presence of homeschoolers at the meeting, together with the testimony, e-mails, letters, phone calls, and--most of all--everyone's prayers, made a powerful difference in the outcome.  

Thank you for joining HEAV in supporting religious freedom!  


With warm regards,  


Yvonne Bunn

   Yvonne Bunn
   Director of Government Affairs

School Board Meeting 

Parents and homeschooled students filled the school board room at the Goochland County Administrative Building to capacity. When the meeting began at 6:30 p.m., sound was broadcast in the hallways and overflow rooms, where parents listened intently and waited for an opportunity to speak.


Early in the discussion, a passionate father expressed his concern for religious freedom and liberty. He pointed and made reference to the Goochland Court House just down the street from the building in which we were seated. He said it was in that very courthouse that Patrick Henry defended the rights of his Goochland neighbors. He intimated that the Goochland school board could do no less for its citizens today.


The school board patiently listened to leaders of local, state, and national organizations; attorneys; CEOs of companies; a public school teacher/homeschool parent; a county supervisor; engineers; pastors; co-op leaders; and homeschool parents and teens-all opposing the intrusive Goochland County religious exemption (RE) policy.


When testimony ended at 10:30 p.m., the new board chair, John Lumpkins, asked if we wanted to take a break or if we wanted to have the board take a vote. The room erupted in applause, then everyone quietly listened to the motion the board would make. After a short discussion, they agreed the policy was too intrusive and they should repeal it. The audience jumped to their feet, clapping and cheering.


Board procedure calls for a second vote of confirmation at the next board meeting when there is a policy change. After the vote and the chair's explanation of the policy voting rules, Dr. Pruiett came to the lectern and asked each board member, going down the line and calling them by name directly, if they would stay with their vote at the next meeting. To a hushed audience, they each publicly said "yes."  


Next, they made a motion to suspend any pending legal action against parents who had failed to comply with the policy's demand for 14-year-olds to provide a statement of religious beliefs within 30 days of their 14th birthday. Again the room was filled with cheering and clapping parents who stood to their feet. Everyone could hardly contain their appreciation for the board's brave action! Everyone rejoiced with those in the room who had been freed of pending charges.

Notes from Testimony 
  • Referring to a position paper from UVA and newspaper articles as the possible catalyst for school board policy changes across the state, a homeschooled UVA graduate refuted the document as a poor example of research that was based on responses from an extremely small sample group.
  • Several parents expressed concern over the First Amendment rights of parents, reminding the board that they cannot impede the free exercise of religion. Others referred to the recently passed Virginia Parental Rights Act (2013): "A parent has a fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education, and care of the parent's child." The board was not familiar with this statute; it appeared to be a turning point in the discussion.
  • Representing HEAV, I presented the history of the RE statute, its wording as based on the federal conscientious objector statute, and the changes that were intentionally made by Virginia legislators. Virginia's RE is based on the federal conscientious objector statute. Originally, the federal conscientious objector law stated that a person could have an objection to war based on "religious training and belief." When the word "pupil" was included in the Virginia RE statute, the Virginia legislature purposefully changed the phrase to "religious training or belief." It is a parent, not a school board, who should determine at what age a minor child's training ends and he is mature enough to express his own spiritual beliefs. It is the board's duty to recognize religious exemption based on one of two things: sincere "religious training" by the parents or the "belief" of the pupil. Therefore, an RE can be based solely on "spiritual training" by the parent.
  • One parent who had had RE for 10 years but was now faced with legal action because he was required to fill out a form and include a statement from his 14-year-old, asked to be treated the way they would want to be treated. He said he had had many sleepless nights thinking about what this meant for his family. He calmly appealed to several board members by name. He said that he was their neighbor; their children played together; they attended games and the same community activities. He put their campaign signs in his yard to encourage others to vote for them. He asked that they honor and recognize the religious liberties of the families in Goochland, regardless of what other school boards may do. "Be a good neighbor," he ended.
  • Chris Freund of the Family Foundation made two strong points. 1) Religiously exempt families are not responsible to the school board; the school board is responsible to these families. It is their job to protect their rights. 2) As confirmed by the Supreme Court, a school board is not qualified to determine what a bona fide religious belief is. In order to do that, they would have to be experts in every religion because the statute encompasses all religions.
  • A homeschool mom and attorney reminded the board that the law states that a pupil is exempt from attendance at school, not from education, as some board members were concerned. She also reviewed a number of things 14-year-olds were not allowed by law to do because they were not mature enough--things such as getting their ears pierced, driving a car, voting in elections, carrying a gun, signing legal documents, etc. Based on law and precedence, how could a 14-year-old be mature enough to articulate their religious beliefs at such an early age? Or to decide if they want to be exempt from school because of religious reasons? Or even to decide it they want to go to school?
  • Scott Woodruff of Home School Legal Defense explained that the board should not fear lawsuits from unhappy students. It is the right of parents to waive a free public education just as they can waive the right for a driver's license for their 16-year-old if they deem he is not mature enough to drive. Scott referred to several Virginia court cases when questioned by the board chair.
  • Parents followed up by reminding the board that their purpose was to represent and serve the citizens of Goochland who elected them, not to enact an intrusive policy in order to protect themselves (the board) from a lawsuit.
  • An elected Goochland county supervisor who was born in Cuba stated that at age 14, he had not been mature enough to make a decision about his education or future. He related a story about his early life in Cuba. When he should have been in school, the government required him to work in the sugar-cane fields. His parents wanted a better life for him, but they could not object openly without being persecuted. His parents then made the decision for him to leave Cuba and come to America when he was 14. He had not wanted to leave his grandparents, his friends, and the only life he had known. His parent's decision changed his life for the better, however, and he stated that he would be forever grateful.
  • One father stated, "Pitting a child against his parent is very disturbing." As parents themselves, why would school board members want to put the government between a pupil and his parents? Several parents agreed that this policy undermines parental authority and is very serious.
  • A father urged the board to recognize that the RE law allowed for a liberal interpretation. It allowed for liberty, not restriction from liberty.

The Goochland School Board chair stated that they had learned something from everyone. They said they had great intent, but now realized that the policy is intrusive. They apologized and said they wanted to put "authority back with the parents." The vote was called and the Goochland religious exemption policy was repealed. Board procedure calls for a second vote of confirmation for a policy change at the next board meeting.  

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