Judge Rejects California’s Attempt to Shut Down Christian Boarding School

Redding, CA—A Christian boarding school in Northern California won a reprieve in court Monday against the State of California’s ideologically-driven efforts to shut it down. The dispute centers on the State’s unilaterally re-labeling of the school as a “community care facility.” That label would force the school into heavy regulation by the State’s Department of Social Services, including mandates that would violate the school’s religious mission.

Over the weekend, Judge Tamara Woods of the Shasta County Superior Court issued a tentative ruling denying the State’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction, in which the State sought to force the school’s closure. The Judge expressed concern with the First Amendment implications of the State’s demands. Following oral argument this week, the Judge adopted her tentative ruling in favor of the school. The school and related entities are being jointly represented by Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) and insurance defense counsel. In briefing, PJI has emphasized the unconstitutional overreach of the State’s actions.

The school at the center of this case is River View Christian Academy (RVCA). The school is located in rural Shasta County in Northern California and is operated as a ministry of Teen Rescue, a religious non-profit.

In January of this year, the school was raided by the State. The raid, which terrified students and staff, consisted of 16 armed law enforcement from the California Highway Patrol, 2 canine units, and 17 social workers. The State later admitted the raid was prompted by an internet rumor put forward by an online tabloid. The State was duped into thinking the school housed illegal drugs, stockpiled weapons, and was preparing for an end-times apocalypse. Yet the Waco-style raid turned up no such evidence.

Instead of retreating from its dangerous blunder, the State doubled down and began imposing daily fines against the school for allegedly operating as an “unlicensed community care facility.” This is in spite of the fact that the State has confirmed three times over the past 10 years that RVCA is operating legally as a school. RVCA has actually operated as a private school for the past 25 years, filing an annual affidavit with the California Department of Education as do other private schools and homeschools in the State.

The State now insists that the school is an illegal, unlicensed community care facility. The school has never thought of itself as such a facility, which would involve entirely different regulations than a school. Licensing is more than just an administrative headache—it would require the Christian school to relinquish its moral standards. For instance, the State requires that licensed facilities allow students to have the right to engage in spiritual and sexual exploration, which contradicts the goals of many parents who enroll their kids in RVCA.

Teen Rescue was founded in 1989 by Phil Ludwig and launched the school in 1993. After a wildfire destroyed its campus in Southern California, it moved to its present, 250-acre location in rural Northern California. The campus includes dormitories, classrooms, a cafeteria, athletic field, library, and offices.

Kevin Snider, PJI’s Chief Counsel and the lead defense attorney in this case, appeared in court Monday and commented, “The State’s crusade against this Christian school is chilling. If they can get away with this, there is little to stop them from targeting other Christian schools on a purely ideological basis.”

Monday’s ruling is a setback for the State but will not end the case. The Court has scheduled a trial for April of next year.

Brad Dacus, President of PJI, commented, “Since our founding, PJI has fought hard for the rights of families in the public schools, private schools, and home schools. It is absolutely essential to our future as a nation that we preserve the rights of parents to choose the best educational options for their children. Several years ago we fought hard and succeeded in thwarting the government’s efforts to end homeschooling in California. We must now defeat the State’s latest effort to control Christian schools.”