Schools and Learning

A Utah high school student ignored his church’s teachings on premarital sex. His public school isn’t responsible for that.

  Rob Boston

Most likely prodded by recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, some people are making increasingly strange arguments about what constitutes a violation of religious freedom. Thankfully, courts aren’t buying into all of them.

A case in point comes from Utah, where parents who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) sued a public school after learning that their son, known as JD in court papers, had sex with his girlfriend on school grounds during the final week of school in May of 2022.

Officials at Skyridge High School in Lehi were exercising fairly loose supervision over students during the final days of the school year, a not uncommon arrangement in many American public schools. The parents sued the school for being negligent, which is understandable, but they added complaints that the school had somehow violated their religious freedom and right to parent.

Judge not persuaded

U.S. District Judge Jill Parrish rejected these claims, while allowing a state court to consider the negligence claim.

The parents were undoubtedly upset by their son’s behavior, but it’s worth noting that he had been caught having sex with his girlfriend on other occasions not at school – despite his parents’ admonishments that the LDS church opposes premarital sex.

Parrish ruled that the parents “assert that the Alpine School District did not do enough to help them perform their religious obligations” and added, “But the Free Exercise Clause does not impose such a duty on government entities. … ​​The district has no constitutional duty to modify its internal procedures to further the [family’s] religious goals.”

Public schools can’t enforce religion

The school district, Parrish also noted, “did not coerce JD into acting against his religious beliefs. He freely chose to have premarital sex with his girlfriend, even though this was against the teachings of his religion.”

The bottom line here is that JD apparently didn’t find LDS teachings on sex before marriage terribly persuasive and chose to ignore them. One can argue that the school should have been keeping a closer eye on students at the end of the year, but officials there simply are not responsible for JD’s decision to ignore his church’s religious teachings. For that, the parents need to look inward.


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