Court hears dispute over First Amendment, religious school
DETROIT (AP) — Michigan courts can have no role in admission decisions at faith-based schools, a lawyer told the state Supreme Court on Thursday in a case that tests whether a family can sue a Roman Catholic school over their daughter’s rejection.
Notre Dame Preparatory School insists federal and state legal precedent protects religious schools under the First Amendment. But a lawyer for a girl who was rejected in 2014 told justices that the lawsuit should be evaluated purely as a case of illegal discrimination.
“It’s the kind of case that can be decided without straying into ecclesiastical religious doctrine,” Nicholas Roumel said.
Notre Dame Prep in Pontiac told the girl that she wouldn’t be admitted to ninth grade because of poor grades. The girl was later diagnosed with dyslexia and attention-deficit disorder. The school denied any discrimination based on her learning disability.
Attorney James Walsh, who represents the school and its sponsor, the Marist Fathers of Detroit, said courts can’t tell a church how to fill its pews or decide who goes to a religious school.
“The pastor, principal — whoever makes the decision — can say, ‘We will not be able to effectively convey our faith to this student.’ ... Any inquiry by a court about why a student is or isn’t accepted in a Catholic school would cause entanglement by a court in religion,” Walsh said.
There’s no guarantee that the Michigan Supreme Court will take any action. Justices could drop the case and let a 2015 appeals court decision stand in favor of Notre Dame Prep.
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