Back on July 14, New Hampshire family-court judge Lucinda Sadler ruled that the daughter of a divorced couple who had been homeschooled by her mother (Voydatch) must be sent to public school. This was in accordance with the father’s (Kurowski) wishes, though the girl had resided with the mother since the divorce in 1999, when the child was an infant. Judge Sadler’s decision was based partly on the socialization issue (which was the father’s main concern) but also at least in part on her opinion that the girl’s Christian homeschooling was too rigid, that she would be better served in life by being exposed a wider range of views than what her mother provided. [You can read the entire court document here]
Since this case is a custody-related case, it, like the In re Rachel L. case in California, was at first not on the radar screen of the leading homeschooling watchdog groups. It is now. For a little over a month the story was unknown in the homeschooling world. But on August 24 an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a conservative Christian legal organization Voydatch had contacted for support, issued to the New Hampshire court a motion for reconsideration. Two days later the ADF issued a news release on the case. By the next day the story had been picked up by onenewsnow.com, and it quickly spread around the internet, abetted especially by a post on August 28 on WorldNetDaily.
A few days later the story broke in more traditional media outlets. Fox News ran a story on the case on September 1. On September 4, The Washington Times made it the day’s lead story. Since then coverage and commentary has exploded among Christian and conservative publications, websites, chat rooms, and so on. While both the Fox and Washington Times stories were balanced and sensitive to the complexities of the case, much subsequent discussion has not been. A writer for the Christian Coalition saw it as an example of Big Brother taking away Christian freedoms. Popular conservative columnist Cal Thomas used it as an example of elites trampling on the rights of ordinary Americans. Some Christian bloggers saw it as an example of persecution.
Other commentators, however, have exhibited more subtlety. The engaging blogger Christine McLaughlin didn’t buy Thomas’ inflated rhetoric but found herself agreeing with conservatives that the court had overstepped its bounds. Libertarian leaning Eugene Volokh, always worth reading, also thought that Judge Sadler overstepped her authority but had trouble coming up with a neutral principle that would allow the court to make the right decision in this case. An editorial published in the Concord Monitor described well the tensions involved in custody decisions and concluded that the court had actually made the right decision here.
While tongues have been wagging, the gears of the justice system have slowly been grinding. The New Hampshire Sate Supreme Court has agreed to rehear the case. The commentary on this case is a fascinating illustration of how the same set of facts can be interpreted so many different ways. Given such wide ranging interpretations, I’m glad the State Court agreed to hear the case and can’t wait to read what it finds.