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Chief Counsel
Kelly J. Shackelford

903 E. 18th St., Suite 230
Plano, TX 75074
Phone: 972-423-8889
Fax: 972-423-8899


A division of
Free Market Foundation

December 7, 1998

Legal Contacts:
Patrick C. Appel
Kelly J. Shackelford

Family of handicapped child sues school for religious discrimination.


A Houston family filed suit today against Katy Independent School District (KISD), claiming their 8-year-old son was discriminated against because of religious beliefs.

The parents, Paul and Sylvia Valdez, tried to enroll their son in the KISD on two separate occasions so that he could attend speech therapy classes. On both occasions, the school refused the child because of the couple's religious-based objection to immunizations. The child is currently being homeschooled while he is denied entrance.

"I am a Christian," wrote Paul Valdez in an affidavit to the school. "I do not believe it is right or proper that my son receive immunizations. Such immunizations conflict with my sincere and genuine religious beliefs."

In the formal denial for enrollment, the school explained that Texas law requires proof of membership in a "recognized" church or denomination before exemption can be granted.

"The state cannot deny religious exemption simply because a person is not a member of a formal religious organization." said Patrick Appel, lead counsel for the case and an affiliate lawyer with the Liberty Legal Institute. "Furthermore, a state has no authority under the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment to determine what a 'recognized' church or religious denomination is."

Sylvia Valdez said she now has to travel six. hours a week for private speech lessons since her son cannot attend KISD. "We have a right to our beliefs about immunizations." said Sylvia Valdez. "Our son should have access to the school that we are supporting with our taxes, and yet he can't get in."

"The state of Texas has impermissibly tried to define acceptable religious beliefs," said Appel. "The state should not be a doctrinal monitor of religious beliefs. That is an inappropriate function for government."

"Government discrimination against handicapped children and their families based on their religion is an outrage," said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for the Liberty Legal Institute. "We will stand with any family and child who is being similarly persecuted."

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