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COMBS v. HOMER CENTER SCHOOL DISTRICT

December 8, 2005.

MR. DARRELL COMBS, and MRS. KATHLEEN COMBS, Plaintiffs,
v.
HOMER CENTER SCHOOL DISTRICT, and JOSEPH F. MARCOLINE, in his official capacity as Superintendent of Homer-City School District, Defendants. DR. THOMAS PREVISH AND TIMARI PREVISH, Plaintiff, v. NORWIN SCHOOL DISTRICT, and RICHARD WATSON, in his official capacity as Superintendent of Norwin School District, Defendants. DR. MARK NEWBORN, and MRS. MARY ALICE NEWBORN, Plaintiffs, v. FRANKLIN REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, and STEPHEN VAK, in his official capacity as Superintendent of Franklin Regional School District, Defendants. MR. THOMAS HANKIN, and MRS. BABETTE HANKIN, Plaintiffs, v. BRISTOL TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT, and REGINA CESARIO, in her official capacity as Superintendent of Bristol Township School District, Defendants. MR. DOUGLAS NELSON and MRS. SHARI NELSON, Plaintiffs, v. TITUSVILLE AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, and JOHN D. REAGLE, in his official capacity as Acting Superintendent of Titusville Area School District, Defendant. REV. STEVEN WEBER AND MRS. MEG WEBER, Plaintiffs, v. DUBOIS AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, and SHARON KIRK, in her official capacity as Superintendent of Dubois Area School District, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARTHUR SCHWAB, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Introduction

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's education system, enacted by its General Assembly (as opposed to the Pennsylvania Department of Education ("PDE") or local school boards or administrators), permits parents and guardians to satisfy Pennsylvania's compulsory education laws through "home education programs," subject to minimum days of attendance and hours of instruction in certain specific courses (e.g., language, geography, literature, history) and review by the respective school districts of logs and educational materials compiled by the supervisors of the home education programs for compliance with the required courses and minimum days and hours of instruction, but not of educational content, textbooks, curriculum or instructional materials.

  Parents who home school their children based on their sincerely held religious beliefs have sued their respective school districts and superintendents in several state and federal courts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, seeking a declaratory judgment and equitable relief from the enforcement of Pennsylvania's Compulsory Attendance Law through truancy prosecutions on the grounds that Pennsylvania's statute permitting "home education programs" violates the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act, the Free Exercise, Establishment and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and several aspects of the Due Process Clause of Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, both on its face and as applied. Resolution of plaintiffs' pending motion for summary judgment on "threshold issues" requires careful consideration and balancing of often competing personal, societal and governmental interests — the rights of parents and guardians to direct the education and upbringing of their children and the constitutional and statutory obligation of the Commonwealth to provide for and ensure the adequate education of its children citizens — and constitutional principles that are basic to our Nation's concept of ordered liberty and democracy.

  II. The Pennsylvania Constitutional and Statutory Framework

  A. Education in American History in General, and in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in Particular

  1. American History

  An educated citizenry has been recognized as critical to the success and well-being of the Nation and its people from the time of its creation. Founding fathers, including George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, William Penn, championed the view that the government has an overarching responsibility to create and to regulate a system of public education.

  In his farewell address in 1796, America's first president, George Washington, addressed the issue of public education provided by the government. "Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. . . . In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened."*fn1 John Adams agreed that the government was obligated to educate its citizens. In 1780, Adams engrafted that principle into the Massachusetts' Constitution, which stated: "[I]t shall be the duty of the legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of the Commonwealth, to cherish the interests of . . . public school and grammar schools in the towns."*fn2

  And, serving in Virginia's state legislature, Thomas Jefferson proposed legislation in the fall of 1778 to create a public school system in Virginia. Jefferson titled this measure A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge.*fn3 "For Thomas Jefferson, public education was the key to preserving republican government."*fn4 Jefferson believed every citizen should have access to public education because the "most effectual means of preventing [public corruption] would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large."*fn5

  The Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first American colony to pass a compulsory education law. In 1642, Massachusetts required parents to see that their children received an education, and five years later, the legislature passed a law which established public schools in some towns, and provided for the appointment of teachers and collection of taxes to pay for the education of children.*fn6 Connecticut was the next colony to pass a public school law in 1650, requiring all "masters of families" to educate their children and servants.*fn7 2. Pennsylvania History

  Before any of these notables had placed their imprimaturs on public education as a foundation of good government and a robust Nation, William Penn had advocated for a system of public schools in Pennsylvania,*fn8 as did other prominent leaders of the Commonwealth.*fn9 In 1681, Penn was granted the colony by the King of England. He drafted a Frame of Government for the new Commonwealth, which included a provision for public education, stating: "Twelfth. That the Governors and Provincial Council shall erect and order all Public Schools, and encourage and reward authors of useful sciences and laudable inventions in the said Province."*fn10 At Penn's urging, in 1682 the First General Assembly of Pennsylvania created the "Great Law" which included a provision for the creation of schools across Pennsylvania.*fn11 Then, at the Second General Assembly in 1683, stronger public school legislation was passed under Penn's leadership. In Chapter CXII, this legislation stated:
And to the end that poor as well as rich man be instructed in good and commendable learning, which is to be preferred before wealth, Be it enacted, . . . [t]hat all persons in this Province and Territories thereof, having children, and all the guardians and trustees of orphans, shall cause such to be instructed in reading and writing . . ., and that then they be taught some useful trade or skill, that the poor may work to live, and the rich if they become poor may not want: of which every County court shall take care. And in case such parents, guardian, or overseers shall be found deficient in this respect, every such parent, guardian, or overseer shall pay for ever such child, five pounds, except there should appear an incapacity in body or understanding to hinder it.*fn12
  In 1776, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania passed a provisional state constitution which included the following provision for public education: "A school or schools shall be established in each county by the legislature for the convenient instruction of youth, with such salaries to the masters paid by the public as may enable them to instruct youth at low prices; and all useful learning shall be duly encouraged and promoted in one or more Universities."*fn13 In one form or another, provisions for public education were set forth in the various state constitutions, culminating in the formulation contained in the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1874, to wit: "The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public schools, wherein all the children of this Commonwealth above the age of six years shall be educated, and shall appropriate at least one million dollars each year for that purpose." Pa. Const. of 1874, Art. X, § 1. As amended in 1967, this proviso now reads: "The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth." Pa. Const., Art. III, § 14.

  The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790 was the basis for the Free Public School Act of 1834 which is the underpinning for today's system of schools in the Commonwealth. 22 Pa. Code, Chap. 4, Appx. C, Academic Standards for Civics and Government, XIV. "In meeting its responsibility, the General Assembly has established a comprehensive legislative scheme governing the operation and administration of public education." Pennsylvania Fed'n of Teachers v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 506 Pa. 196, 484 A.2d 751, 753 (1984).

  The structure of Pennsylvania's public school system was summarized by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently in Parents United For Better Schools, Inc. v. Sch. Dist. of Philadelphia Bd. of Educ., 148 F.3d 260, 262 n. 1 (3d Cir. 1998):
The organization of [Pennsylvania's] public school system is controlled by the Public School Code of 1949 (School Code)[24 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-101 — 27-2702 (West 1992)]." Philadelphia Fed'n of Teachers, Local No. 3 v. Board of Educ. of the Sch. Dist. of Phila., 51 Pa.Cmwlth. 296, 414 A.2d 424, 426 (1980) (citation omitted). "School Districts act as agencies of the state legislature in administering the educational program within the district." Chambersburg Area Sch. Dist. v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Bd., 60 Pa.Cmwlth. 29, 430 A.2d 740, 743 (1981) (citation omitted), appeal dismissed, 498 Pa. 366, 446 A.2d 603 (1982). See also Barth v. School Dist. of Phila., 393 Pa. 557, 143 A.2d 909, 912 (1958) ("the School District of Philadelphia is an agent or creature of the Legislature"); Kaufman v. Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit No. 16, 144 Pa.Cmwlth. 163, 601 A.2d 412, 414 (1991) ("The legislature has established that each school district and intermediate unit shall have, inter alia, a board of directors and has set forth the powers and duties of each") (citation omitted).
  The following laws were enacted to implement Pennsylvania's constitutional mandate to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the citizens of the Commonwealth. Pa. Const., Art. III, § 14.

  B. Pennsylvania Compulsory Education Law and Four Legislative Educational Options

  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requires every child of compulsory school age having legal residence in Pennsylvania "to attend a day school in which the subjects and activities prescribed by the standards of the State Board of Education are taught in the English language." 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327(a). Compulsory school age is defined by the Pennsylvania Administrative Code as "the period of a child's life from the time the child enters school as a beginner which may be no later than at the age of eight (8) years, until the age of seventeen (17) or graduation from a high school, whichever occurs first." 22 Pa. Code § 11.13 (2005).

  The Pennsylvania legislature currently permits four alternative categories or types of education that may satisfy the Compulsory School Law: (1) public schools, with certain trade school options, 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327(a); (2) non-public, licensed private academic schools, 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327(a); (3) schools operated by bona fide churches or other religious bodies, 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327(b); and (4) "home education programs," 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1.

  First, parents and guardians may fulfill the compulsory attendance requirements by sending their children to public schools. In lieu of such attendance, any child who is fifteen years of age may enroll as a day student in a private trade school or in a private business school licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education provided he or she obtains the approval of the district superintendent and Secretary of Education. 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327(a). Similarly, any child sixteen years of age may enroll as a day student in a private trade school or in a private business provided he or she obtains the approval of the district superintendent. 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327(a). Thus, even though a child may opt to attend a private trade or business school, every

 
parent, guardian, or other person having control or charge of any child or children of compulsory school age is required to send such child or children to a day school in which the subjects and activities prescribed by the standards of the State Board of Education are taught in the English language.
24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327(a).
  The second option enacted to ensure "appropriate education" of the children of the Commonwealth is private schools. The certificate of any principal or teacher of a private school, or of any institution for the education of children, "in which the subjects and activities prescribed" by the State Board of Education are taught in the English language, must set forth that the work of said school is in compliance with the provisions of the Compulsory Attendance Law. 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327(a). With respect to instruction in the English language, instruction by a properly qualified private tutor shall be considered as complying with the Compulsory Attendance Law. 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327(a). A properly qualified private tutor is defined as "any person who is certified by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to teach in the public schools of Pennsylvania." 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327(a). The third alternative permits education at parochial and other religious affiliated schools run by bona fide churches and other religious bodies. The principal of each such school must submit a notarized affidavit to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, stating that the mandated subject matter is offered in the English language and that such school is otherwise in compliance with the provisions of the Compulsory Attendance Law. 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327(b). Thus,
a school operated by a bona fide church or other religion body and the parent, guardian or other person having control or charge of any such child or children of compulsory school age shall be deemed to have meet the requirements of this section if that school provides a minimum of one hundred eight (180) days of instruction or nine hundred (900) hours of instruction per year of instruction at the secondary level.
24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327(b).

  Furthermore, a school operated by a bona fide church or religious body must provide instruction in the following subjects at the elementary level:

  English, to include spelling, reading, and writing; arithmetic; science; geography; history of the United States and Pennsylvania; civic; safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires; health and physiology; physical education; music; and art.

 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327(b)(1).

  And at the secondary level, such schools must provide instruction in:
English, to include language, literature, speech and composition; science, to include biology and chemistry; geography; social studies, to include civics, economics, world history, history of the United States and Pennsylvania; a foreign language; mathematics, to include general mathematics and statistics, algebra and geometry; music; physical education; health and physiology; and safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires.
24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327(b)(2).

  Although the subject areas to be taught in schools operated by a bona fide church or religious body are prescribed by statute, it is "the policy of the Commonwealth to preserve the primary right and the obligation of the parent or parents, or person or persons in loco parentis to a child, to choose the education and training for such child." 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327(b). Accordingly, nothing contained in the Compulsory Attendance Law "shall empower the Commonwealth, any of its officers, agencies or subdivisions to approve the course content, faculty, staff or disciplinary requirements of any religious school referred to in this section without the consent of said school." Id.

  C. Act 169 of 1988 — Pennsylvania Home Schooling Act

  The Pennsylvania legislature recognized and permitted the fourth alternative in 1988 — Pennsylvania's Home Schooling Act, Act 169 of 1988, P.L. 1321, No. 169, December 1, 1988, 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1. Act 169 provides that instruction to children of compulsory school age in a "home education program" satisfies Compulsory Attendance Law. 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1(d). Act 169 requires the same number of days and hours of instruction, and the same subject matters of instruction as required by a school operated by a bona fide church or religious body. 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1(c)(1)(2). To begin a home education program, the parent or guardian of the child must file a notarized affidavit prior to the commencement of the home education program, and annually thereafter on August 1, with the superintendent of the school district of residence. 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1(b)(1). This affidavit must set forth:
[T]he name of supervisor of the home education program who shall be responsible for the provision of instruction; the name and age of each child . . .; the address and telephone number of the . . . site; that such subjects as required by law are offered in the English language, including an outline of proposed education objectives by subject area.
24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1.

  The outline of proposed education objectives cannot be utilized by the district superintendent in determining whether the home education program is in compliance. 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1(b)(1). However, the superintendent is charged with ensuring that "appropriate education" is taking place; "appropriate education" is "a program consisting of instruction in the required subjects for the time required in this act and in which the student demonstrates sustained progress in the overall program." 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1(a).

  In order to ensure that "appropriate education" is occurring, the supervisor of the home education program must submit to the district superintendent a portfolio of records and materials, as follows:
(1) A portfolio of records and materials. The portfolio shall consist of a log, made contemporaneously with the instruction, which designates by title the reading materials used, samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks or creative materials used or developed by the student and in grades three, five and eight results of nationally normed standardized achievement tests in reading/language arts and mathematics or the results of Statewide tests administered in these grade levels. The department shall establish a list . . . of nationally normed standardized tests from which the supervisor . . . shall select . . . if the supervisor does not choose the Statewide tests. At the discretion of the supervisor, the portfolio may include the results of nationally normed standardized achievement tests for other subject areas or grade levels. The supervisor shall ensure that the nationally normed standardized tests or the Statewide tests shall not be administered by the child's parent or guardian.
* * *
(2) An annual written evaluation of the student's educational progress as determined by a licensed clinical or school psychologist or a teacher certified by the Commonwealth or by a [qualified] nonpublic school teacher or administrator. . . . The evaluation shall also be based on an interview of the child and a review of the portfolio required in clause (1) and shall certify whether or not an appropriate education is occurring. At the request of the supervisor, persons with other qualifications may conduct the evaluation with the prior consent of the district of residence superintendent. In no event shall the evaluator be the supervisor or their spouse.
24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1(e)(1)(2).

  If at any time during the school year, the district superintendent has a reasonable belief that appropriate education may not be occurring in a home education program, the superintendent may require documentation pertaining to the portfolio of records and materials to be submitted. 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1(h). After reviewing the submitted documentation, if the district superintendent believes that appropriate education is not taking place, either during or at the conclusion of the school year, he or she shall notify the supervisor of the home education program by certified mail, stating such belief and specifying the aspects of the documentation deemed inadequate. 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1(i). The supervisor of the home education program shall then have twenty (20) days to submit additional documentation demonstrating that appropriate education is occurring. 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1(j). If this additional documentation is not forwarded to the district superintendent, the home education program will be declared out of compliance, and as a consequence, the child must be "enrolled in the public school district of residence or a nonpublic school or a licensed private academic school," and the supervisor or spouse of the supervisor shall not be eligible to supervise a home education program for that child for twelve months. 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1(j).

  If additional documentation is submitted and the district superintendent still determines that appropriate home education is not occurring, he must notify the supervisor of the home education program and the board of school directors must then provide for a "proper hearing by a duly qualified and impartial hearing examiner within thirty days." 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1(k). The hearing examiner "shall not be an officer, employee or agent of the PDE or of the school district or intermediate unit of residence of the child in the home education program." 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1(a). If the hearing examiner "finds that the documentation does not indicate that appropriate education is taking place in the home education program, the home education program for the child shall be out of compliance with the requirements of this section and section 1327, and the student shall be promptly enrolled in the public school district of residence or a nonpublic school or a licensed private academic school." 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1(k). Either the supervisor of the program or the superintendent for the school district may appeal the decision of the hearing examiner to the Secretary of Education (the executive branch) or to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (the judicial branch). Id.

  D. Pennsylvania Administrative Code and Protections of Religious Beliefs

  The Pennsylvania Department of Education, headed by the Secretary of Education, is charged by the General Assembly with developing rules and regulations to carry out its legislative enactments as set forth in the Pennsylvania School Code. Act of July 23, 1969, P.L. 181, § 1, 71 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 1037, 1038; Act of June 16, 1994, P.L. 319, No. 49, § 9, 64 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 468. The Administrative Code provides the following regulations that are pertinent to compulsory education and home education programs.

  The PDE explains that public education "prepares students for adult life by attending to their intellectual and developmental needs and challenging them to achieve at their highest level possible. In conjunction with families and other community institutions, public education prepares students to become self-directed, life-long learners and responsible, involved citizens." 22 Pa. Code § 4.11(b). Thus, public education is intended to provide opportunities for students to:
(1) Acquire knowledge and skills. (2) Develop integrity. (3) Process information. (4) Think critically. (5) Work independently. (6) Collaborate with others. [and] (7) Adapt to change.
22 Pa. Code § 4.11(c).

  Academic standards "describe the knowledge and skills which students will be expected to demonstrate before graduating from a public school," and are set forth in section 4.12, 22 Pa. Code § 4.12, while "assessment in public education" is designed to determine student attainment of state and local academic standards. 22 Pa. Code § 4.11(d-e). To that end, public schools "provide instruction throughout the curriculum so that students may develop knowledge and skills in the following areas: (1) Reading, writing, speaking and listening; (2) Mathematics; (3) Science and technology; (4) Environment and ecology; (5) Social studies (civics and government, geography, economics and history); (6) Arts and humanities; (7) Career education and work; (8) Health, safety and physical education; (9) Family and consumer science; and (10) World languages. 22 Pa. Code § 4.11(g)(1-10). Notably, religious instruction and training is omitted from the statutory and administrative objectives and curriculum.

  The Code also defines "Planned instruction" as consisting of "at least the following elements: (1) Objectives of a planned course, instructional unit or interdisciplinary studies to be achieved by all students; (2) Content, including materials and activities, and estimated instructional time to be devoted to achieving the academic standards. Courses, instructional units or interdisciplinary studies of varying lengths of time may be taught; (3) The relationship between the objectives of a planned course, instructional unit or interdisciplinary studies and academic standards specified under § 4.12 and to those determined in the school district's (including charter schools) or AVTS's strategic plan under § 4.13; and (4) Procedures for measurement of the objectives of a planned course, instructional unit or interdisciplinary studies." 22 Pa. Code § 4.11(h).

  "Students of compulsory school age participating in a home education program are subject to sections 1327(d) and 1327.1 of the Public School Code of 1949 [24 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 13-1327(d) and 1327.1]." The Code provides that school district approval is not required to commence home education programs. 22 Pa. Code § 11.31(a). For purposes of the Pennsylvania State Higher Education Grant Program, "an approved secondary school shall also include any home education program that is accredited by any home schooling accreditation agency approved by the Department of Education. If the home education program lacks the requisite accreditation, certification by the appropriate local school official attesting that the home education program is in compliance with Section 1327.1 of the Public School Code of 1949 [24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13-1327.1] shall be submitted to the Agency by the appropriate local school official." 22 Pa. Code § 121.21(c).

  The Pennsylvania Administrative Code mandates that school districts adopt policies that preserve certain religious rights for parents and guardians of children of compulsory school age. First, children shall be "excused from specific instruction which conflicts with the religious beliefs of their parents upon receipt of a written request to the school district." 22 Pa. Code. § 4.4(d)(3). Second, if "upon inspection of State assessments parents or guardians find the assessments in conflict with their religious belief and wish their student be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied upon written request to the applicable school district superintendent." 22 Pa. Code § 4.4(d)(4).

  The PDE also maintains a website [http://www.pde.state.pa.us/home_education] devoted to home education, which contains the text of Act 169, a list of frequently asked questions about home schooling and compliance with Act 169, sample forms and affidavits, acceptable tests, academic standards, and links to various resources available to assist home schooling parents, guardians and supervisors.

  E. Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act

  In 2002, the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted the Religious Freedom Protection Act ("RFPA"), P.L. 1701, No. 214, Dec. 9, 2002, 71 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 2401-2407, described as "An Act protecting the free exercise of religion; and prescribing the conditions under which government may substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion." 71 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2401. The RFPA was predicated on the following legislative findings:
(1) Laws and governmental actions which are facially neutral toward religion, as well as laws and governmental actions intended to interfere with religious exercise, may have the effect of substantially burdening the free exercise of religion. However, neither State nor local government should substantially burden the free exercise of religion without compelling justification.
(2) The General Assembly intends that all laws which it has heretofore enacted or will hereafter enact and all ordinances and regulations which have been or will be adopted by political subdivisions or executive agencies shall be construed so as to avoid the imposition of substantial burdens upon the free exercise of religion without compelling justification.
71 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2402.

  The RFPA provides that an "agency shall not substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion, including any burden which results from a rule of general applicability," unless the "agency proves, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the burden is (1) In furtherance of a compelling interest of the agency, and is (2) The least restrictive means of furthering the compelling interest." 71 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2404.

  The RFPA permits a person whose free exercise of religion has been burdened to assert the violation against the agency as a claim or defense in any judicial proceeding. 71 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2405(a). Barring certain exigent circumstances not asserted herein, 71 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2405(c), prior to raising such a claim or defense, the person must provide written notification, by certified mail, return receipt requested, informing the agency that:
(1) The person's free exercise of religion has been or is about to be substantially burdened by an exercise of the agency's governmental authority.
(2) A description of the act or refusal to act which has burdened or will burden the person's free ...

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