A California case that began with police raiding a private Christian boarding school could have major implications for religious education in the state, attorneys for the school are warning.
River View Christian Academy in rural Northern California was raided in January by 16-armed law enforcement officials who were accompanied by two canine units and 17 social workers. Internet rumors had surfaced accusing the school of housing illegal drugs and weapons prompting the search. Despite law enforcement finding nothing, the legal case continued, attorneys say.
At issue is the state’s contention that River View is not a private Christian school but instead an “unlicensed community care facility,” a category that would warrant further regulations.
“Some of those regulations stand at odds with the mission and goals of a Christian school,” Kevin Snider of the Pacific Justice Institute said on The Dacus Report podcast, which is hosted by Pacific Justice president Brad Dacus.
River View has operated as a private Christian school for the past 25 years and files an annual affidavit with the state Department of Education.
The state wants to bring River View under supervision of the state’s Department of Social Services. A new state law (SB524) gives the state more authority to regulate boarding schools.
Pacific Justice Institute sued the state in March, and the state subsequently filed its own suit against the school.
Students at a licensed boarding school facility have the state-protected right to spiritual and sexual exploration, Snider said.
“Parents don’t send their kids to a Christian school for spiritual and sexual exploration,” Snider said. “They want a structured environment where kids are taught from a Christian worldview.”
The state’s investigators, Snider said, are searching for evidence River View offers “behavior-based services” such as counseling, which the school does not have, Snider said. But the term is so broad it could encompass the Christian faith itself, he added.
“It could sweep in just about anything that tries to change behaviors, and, of course, the Christian faith – the gospel – does have that consequence. It changes people’s behaviors,” he said.
River View, Dacus proclaimed, has a “great reputation.”
“If they get away with this,” he said, referencing the state, “we’re looking at the next target being… regular Christian private schools.”
The raid took place four months after BuzzFeed News posted a story about LGBT teens who attended the school and had concerns about its practices. The story noted the school had no licensed counselors on staff, as the school itself acknowledges.
The school’s website states: “We are a Christian faith-based school and will talk about our faith openly. However, we do not force or coerce anyone to believe what we believe.”
The case, Snider warned, could have a major impact on parental rights.
“We believe that parents – not a state department of social services – are the ones who should direct the education and inculcation of moral standards, religious beliefs, and elements of good citizenship in their own kids,” Snider concluded.
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Meric Dagli/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.