Pennsylvania Parochial School Parents Sue School District Over Religious Discrimination

Williamsport City Hall
July 17, 2023
Tom Ciesielka

Thomas More Society Attorneys File Complaint for Refusal of Extracurricular Inclusion

(July 14, 2023 – Williamsport, Pennsylvania) Parents of Pennsylvania parochial school students are suing the public school district for violating their religious rights. Thomas More Society attorneys have filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Religious Rights Foundation of Pennsylvania and the parents of two Centre County parochial school students against the State College Area School District. The complaint calls out the district and its board for discriminating against students who attend religiously affiliated institutions by refusing to allow them to participate in the district’s extracurricular and co-curricular activities, simply due to their parochial school affiliation.

In the lawsuit—filed July 10, 2023, in United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania—Thomas More Society attorneys assert the school district violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The lawsuit seeks a court order allowing parochial students to participate in the activities previously denied to them.

Thomas Breth, Thomas More Society Special Counsel, explained that the school district has a non-discrimination policy that permits non-parochial school students who reside in the district, including charter school and home-school students, access to school district educational programs and activities. Yet, the school district justifies its exclusion of parochial school students from the same programs and activities by claiming their inclusion would take away opportunities from students attending district schools.

“However, the board has consistently allowed home-school students and those attending charter schools to take part in the district’s more than 100 extracurricular activities and classes, including athletic teams and Advanced Placement courses,” said Breth. “The school district has denied those same opportunities to students attending religious schools, based solely on their religious identity. That forces parochial school students to choose between their religious beliefs and the right to participate in extracurricular activities and advanced classes.”

Breth noted that similar cases have come before the United States Supreme Court in the past, and the Court has ruled that denying generally available benefits solely on account of religious identity imposes penalties on the free exercise of religion.

“The Supreme Court has made it clear that such denials can be justified only by a state interest of the highest order,” Breth added. “That is certainly not the case in the State College Area School District.”

Read the complaint filed July 10, 2023, by Thomas More Society attorneys in the United States Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on behalf of the Religious Rights Foundation of Pennsylvania and parochial school parents, in Religious Rights Foundation of Pennsylvania, et al. v. State College Area School District, et al. here.