Mr. Lanting, a member of South Holland Protestant Reformed Church, is a practicing attorney.
Therefore, it is entirely irrelevant to inquire, as this Court did, into the question: is it a violation of the Delonges’ beliefs to hire a certified teacher? Certification is a red herring in examining the burden issue. It would be a violation of the DeJonges’ religious beliefs to delegate the education of their children to their pastor, his wife, a school teacher, or anyone else. God requires them to teach their own children. To the DeJonges delegation of their children’s education to anyone else would be a sin.
State of Mich. v. DeJonge, 1990.
Ever since 1984, Mark and Chris DeJonge of Allendale, Michigan, have been battling the state in the courts for their right to home school their seven children. Michigan law requires all students to be taught by certified teachers. Since neither of the DeJonges is certified, they contend the law prevents them from obeying God’s requirement that they personally educate their own children. Both DeJonges testified at trial that they have a “religious conviction that God commands parents to educate their children at home.” They argued the Michigan law violates the First Amendment which forbids a government from passing laws that “prohibit the free exercise” of religion. The trial judge found them guilty of truancy, fined them $400, and they have been appealing their case ever since.
A Michigan appellate court has twice affirmed their convictions and upheld the constitutionality of the certification law, but the DeJonges, represented by attorneys from the Home School Defense Association, are now appealing to the Michigan supreme court for the second time.
In constitutional terminology the issue in the DeJonge case is this: whether the state’s teacher certification requirement which burdens the parents’ religious beliefs about educating their children is “essential” and the “least restrictive means” for achieving the state’s “compelling interest” in the education of children. The appellate court, ruling against the DeJonges, stated:
Maintaining and improving the quality of our education continues to be one of the most important issues in Michigan today. The teacher certification requirement is a backbone in the protection of this vital interest. . . . The certification requirement is the least obtrusive means of achieving the state’s interest.
The DeJonges disagree. Although they admit the state may have a “compelling interest” in an educated citizenry, they argue that teacher certification is not the “least restrictive means” of achieving that goal. The DeJonges note that out of the fifty states, only two—Michigan and Iowa—still insist upon the “archaic” requirement of teacher certification. All the other 48 states permit home schooling by non-certified parents, requiring only that the students periodically submit to standardized testing or a review of a portfolio of their work. Thus they contend that Michigan’s requirement of certification of home schooling parents is an unconstitutional and needless violation of their religious liberty and beliefs which compel them to educate their own children at home.
The DeJonges also argue (somewhat convincingly, given the condition of the public school system) that the evidence is overwhelming that teacher certification does not necessarily guarantee performance of the teacher or the learning of the student. Several educational studies have shown that there is “no positive correlation” between educational performance of the student and the teacher’s certification.
Accordingly, the DeJonges contend that since 48 states in the nation find it unnecessary to enforce teacher certification to achieve their educational goals, and since there is no scientific evidence that certification enhances greater learning, Michigan should abandon its “sacred cow” of teacher certification.
Notwithstanding previous school decisions which indicate that the Michigan supreme court is evenly divided on the issue of certification, most observers speculate that the DeJonges will prevail and the court will now strike down the certification requirement (most likely on the grounds that it is not “essential” or the “least restrictive means” for achieving the state’s educational interests). Meanwhile, the DeJonges continue to educate their children in the basement of their home, confident the supreme court will eventually rule in their favor.
One would certainly hope that the DeJonges will prevail and that Michigan’s onerous and oppressive certification requirement will be struck down once and for all. This archaic and bureaucratic stipulation has long plagued private and parochial schools in Michigan who wish to tenacity and resolve in pursuing their legal appeals to have the certification law judicially repealed. But what is troublesome about the Dejonges’ view of education is not their disenchantment with certification but rather their insistence that God requires all parents personally to teach their children, and that it is a sin to delegate that task to a tutor or school teacher (see quote above from the DeJonge appellate brief). Although the DeJonges certainly have the constitutional prerogative to embrace such a belief, it would seem they may have a difficult if not impossible task of demonstrating that such an extreme view is biblical or Reformed. The practice of parents delegating the task of education to a Christian teacher who standsin loco parentis is older than Calvin’s Geneva Academy. To insist that God commands each parentpersonally to educate his children to the exclusion of Christian day schools is an unorthodox notion indeed. Refusing children attendance at a godless state school is one thing; to argue it is sinful for parents to hire trustworthy tutors or Christian school teachers who teach “in the place of the parent” appears to be untenable at best. Moreover, this view smacks of selfish individualism to the detriment of the concept of a “community” of believers. The Christian day school movement in this country has had a long and noble history, evidencing the possibility of establishing (excellent schools staffed by competent and professional teachers supervised by a community or association of parents cooperating together, financially and otherwise, to make such schools a reality.
The alternative is not attractive—hundreds of harried mothers, teaching their children correspondence courses in basements across the land, and our Christian day schools closing because of meager enrollments and lack of funds. Because we may have the freedom to teach our own children at home, does not necessarily mean that we should choose that option over a Christian day school in the area.