February 15, 2016
by John Kaempf

An Oregon Trial Court Judge Dismissed A Lawsuit Brought By A Student Expelled By A Religious School, As Well As His Parents, Holding That The School Has The “Sole Discretion” To Make Disciplinary Decisions About Its Students, And The First Amendment Bars Such Claims

John Kaempf, the author of this newsletter, successfully defended a lawsuit filed by a student expelled by a religious high school, whose parents also sued the school.

The student was expelled due to repeated instances of misconduct at school. He sought damages for the alleged “loss of value” due to not graduating from the school and for the allegedly resulting loss of
college scholarships.

The court dismissed the case because the school’s student and parent handbooks stated that the school has the “sole discretion” over disciplinary decisions, including expulsion. The court also dismissed the case based on the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause, holding that a secular court could not second guess a religious school’s decisions about student discipline. The court also held that the plaintiffs’ claimed damages were speculative and thus not recoverable.

Therefore, a religious school should consider stating in its parent and student handbooks that it has
the “sole discretion” over student disciplinary decisions, including suspension and expulsion. It should also consider having its students and their parents sign the handbooks.

Religious schools facing a legal challenge to their disciplinary decisions should also keep in mind their First Amendment right to discipline and expel students without interference by courts.