Conservative Christian leaders are outraged at the California appeals court decision last week rejecting a parent's right to educate their children at home.
"What has occurred is another egregious decision handed down by a California appeals court that strikes at the very heart and soul of families and their children," said Focus on the Family founder and chairman Dr. James Dobson, in a broadcast Friday. "How dare these judges have the audacity to label tens of thousands of parents criminals – the equivalent to drug dealers or pickpockets – because they want to raise and educate their children according to their deeply held values?"
The state appellate court ruled that parents must have a teaching credential to homeschool their children. Otherwise, children ages 6 to 18 must attend public or private school full-time until graduation from high school.
"Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children," Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote in a Feb. 28 opinion for the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
Those words "are nothing less than explosive," said Rev. Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The Pacific Justice Institute estimates there are 166,000 California students who are homeschooled.
"This is an all-out assault on the family, and it must be met with a concerted effort to defend parents and their children," said Dobson whose prominent family organization will do whatever it can to get the ruling overturned. "We will team with key allies and use every means at our disposal to make sure that not just every Californian, but every American, is aware of this miscarriage of justice. We will encourage them, by the hundreds of thousands, to make their voices heard on this matter."
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also denounced the ruling and promised on Friday to ensure that parents have the rights to homeschool their children.
"Every California child deserves a quality education and parents should have the right to decide what's best for their children," the governor said in a statement. "Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children's education. This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts and if the courts don't protect parents' rights then, as elected officials, we will."
The ruling stems from a case involving Phillip and Mary Long, parents of eight children. One of the children reported "physical and emotional mistreatment by the children's father."
All of the children had been enrolled in Sunland Christian School, an institution that coordinates independent study programs for homeschooling families. They were educated by their mother at home and occasionally took tests at the school.
The appellate panel ruled that the family is violating state laws since Mary Long does not have a teaching credential.
Philip Long said he objected to his children being taught in a public school and wanted to protect them until they're mature enough to deal with such topics as evolution and homosexuality.
"I believe the Creator wants us to protect our children from things we believe are hazardous to their character," he said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The immediate impact of the ruling is not clear but advocates for homeschooling families vowed to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary says homeschool advocates are already taking action.
"Even as the court's decision is expected to be stayed pending appeal, some parents are already making clear that they will move their families from the state if necessary," he said. "If parents have no constitutional right to educate their own children, what other aspects of the parent's choices for their own children lack protection? This question reaches far beyond educational decisions."