Written by Don Byrd
A case involving the admission practice of a private religious school has made its way to the Michigan Supreme Court. The dispute may test the limits of legal principles that shield religious entities from judicial scrutiny.
The plaintiffs in the case are parents of a student who was denied admission to Notre Dame Preparatory School in Pontiac, Michigan. The Catholic school maintains the decision was based on the student’s academic record and not, as the parents argue, because of the student’s learning disability. But the school further contends that state nondiscrimination laws based on disabilities do not apply because the religious school enjoys the right, grounded in religious liberty, to admit applicants as they see fit.
The Detroit News has more, explaining why lawyers for the parents believe the outcome depends on whether admission decisions are actually grounded in religion:
Notre Dame Preparatory “has exercised its First Amendment right to decide whom it will admit to receive its religious training and indoctrination. … A court has no power to determine who will be admitted into a religious school — a power that would be tantamount to establishing a religion,” attorney Thomas Rheaume Jr. said in a filing at the Supreme Court.
But the girl’s parents believe there’s an important distinction. They said courts must be allowed to explore whether decisions are actually rooted in religion before cloaking the school with First Amendment protections.
“There is nothing in the pleadings that would indicate a decision entangled in religious doctrine,” the girl’s attorney, Nicholas Roumel, said.
The court will hear argument later this week in the case, which could have far-reaching implications. A lower court sided with the school, but as the Detroit News reports, the chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court was a dissenting judge in the 1994 case grounding that lower court’s decision in this case.