Student Admission at Religious Schools

Court says it cannot get involved in dispute.

Key point. Church—operated schools are protected by the first amendment guaranty of religious freedom in making decisions regarding the admission of students.

A Michigan court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to resolve a lawsuit brought by parents challenging the refusal by a church—operated secondary school to readmit their children. The court rejected the parents' claim that the school's actions amounted to a breach of an "implied contract" based on its "established pattern" of readmitting students. The court observed:

When [a] claim involves the provision of the very services (or here refusal to provide these services) for which the organization enjoys first amendment protection, then any claimed contract for such services likely involves its ecclesiastical policies, outside the purview of civil law. In this regard there can be no distinction between a church providing a liturgical service in its sanctuary and providing education imbued with its religious doctrine in its parochial school. A civil court should avoid foray into a [dispute] regarding admission to a church's religious or educational activities, the essence of its constitutionally protected function. To do so is to set foot in the proverbial slippery slope toward entanglement in matters of doctrine or ecclesiastical polity …. Here the pleadings demonstrate that [the parents'] claims are so entangled in questions of religious doctrine or ecclesiastical polity that the civil courts lack jurisdiction to hear them.

The court noted that there was no express written contract that the church or school had breached that could be remedied by applying civil law alone. Dlaikan v. Roodbeen, 522 N.W.2d 719 (Mich. App. 1994). [ Right to Attend Private Schools, Discharge and Discipline of Students of Private Schools, Use of Public Property for Religious Purposes]

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