Law School Case Brief
Swanson by & Through Swanson v. Guthrie Indep. Sch. Dist. No. I-L - 135 F.3d 694 (10th Cir. 1998)
A law or policy that is neutral and of general applicability need not be justified by a compelling governmental interest even if that law incidentally burdens a particular religious practice or belief. Where a school attendance case involves only a neutral rule of general applicability, it is sufficient to prove a reasonable relationship between the part-time-attendance policy and a legitimate purpose of the school board.
Annie Swanson and her parents claimed that under the Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution, she should be allowed to attend public school on a part-time basis to supplement her home schooling. The school district had no policy for part-time attendance. After a hearing on Swanson's request to take part-time classes, a policy was issued for part-time attendance for fifth year seniors and special education students only. The school board expressed its concern that part-time students were not counted for purposes of awarding state aid. The district court granted summary judgment to the school district and its officials. On appeal, Swanson and her parents did not claim there were any material facts in dispute, but maintained that the trial court should have granted their own motion for summary judgment as a matter of law.
Did the school’s policy prohibiting part-time attendance in public school violate student Swanson’s Constitutional right to have her education directed by her parents?
The district court's summary judgment in favor of the school district and related officials was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals. The Court noted that its review of the grant of summary judgment would be de novo, applying the same standard applicable in the district court: When there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, summary judgment is appropriate. The Court held that the policy was reasonably related to the school district's financial concerns and did not prohibit the students from being home-schooled, in accordance with their religious beliefs. The Court also added that the policy did not force them to do anything that was contrary to those beliefs. Because this case involved only a neutral rule of general applicability, it was sufficient for defendants to prove a reasonable relationship between the part-time-attendance policy and a legitimate purpose of the school board. Also, the Court found that the plaintiffs have shown no colorable claim of infringement on their constitutional right to direct a child's education; accordingly, we hold that this was not a hybrid-rights case that would required defendants to show a compelling state interest.
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