Chesterton Tribune



Indiana homeschool group argues for exemption from civil rights law

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CHARLES D. WILSON, Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Attorneys for a homeschooling group and the family of a girl with a food allergy argued before the Indiana Supreme Court Monday over whether the group's religious rights trump the rights of someone who's disabled.

At issue is Fishers Adolescent Catholic Enrichment Society's decision to expel the girl's family when the family complained about the group's refusal to provide an alternative meal at a dinner-dance event that it organized for homeschooled children. The group provides social activities for homeschooled students from 11 families.

According to court documents, the girl has a condition that can cause a "life-threatening allergic reaction if she eats certain foods." The girl's mother asked the group to provide an alternative meal at the dinner-dance, the documents said. Instead, the organization told the mother she could bring food for the girl. After the family complained to the state, they were expelled from the group.

The commission found FACES had adequately accommodated the girl but had illegally retaliated against the family because they complained.

Attorney Patrick Gillen called the state's action an "unprecedented intrusion" into the group's private decision-making.

"We believe civil rights law has been applied in a way that is inconsistent with religious liberty," said Gillen, an attorney for the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based law firm whose website says it "exists to restore respect in law for life, marriage, and religious liberty."

Attorney Nelson Nettles, representing the girl, told the justices the case was about discrimination against people with disabilities, not freedom of religion.

"It really doesn't relate to religion, it relates to disability," he said.

The justices prodded both lawyers with questions and hypothetical scenarios, mostly centered on when a group has the right to exclude people from membership for whatever reason.