Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) is fighting for the future of a Christian boarding school in Northern California that has been targeted by State officials. PJI believes the case has chilling implications for Christian schools throughout California.
On January 18, 2019, a raid was conducted of River View Christian Academy (RVCA), located in rural Northern California. The raid, which terrified students and staff, consisted of 16 armed law enforcement from the California Highway Patrol (CHP), 2 canine units, and 17 social workers. The State later admitted the raid was prompted by an internet rumor put forward by an online left-wing 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 apologizing for its dangerous blunder, the State doubled down and began imposing daily fines against the school for allegedly operating as an “unlicensed community care facility.” 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 is now taking the position that, due to recent legislation, it is no longer possible for a private boarding school to operate without extensive licensing and oversight by the Department of Social Services. But 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.
The school operates under the ministry of Teen Rescue, a non-profit that comes alongside parents who think a change of scenery and alternative educational environment is just what their teenagers need. 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.
PJI’s lead attorney in this case, Kevin Snider, commented, “Reading the State’s search warrant and legal filings in this case is chilling. This armed incursion on a faith-based school shows that the State wants nothing less than to take jurisdictional control over Christian education in California. This is rooted in its disagreement with millennia-old religious values.”
PJI filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the school in mid-March and sought a restraining order to prevent imposition of the fines. In April, the federal judge abstained and dismissed part of the case, believing it should first go through the State’s administrative process. With daily fines mounting, and as PJI then began vigorously pursuing an administrative appeal, the State abandoned its own process and filed suit against the school in Shasta County Superior Court. PJI is now defending against that suit.
“In 25 years of practice, I have never seen this level of aggressive, militant, and ideologically-driven conduct by a State agency against a religious institution,” Snider said. “For years, as the public schools have become increasingly hostile toward parents, the courts have insisted that the parents’ option is to instead choose private education. Now, that fundamental right is also under attack.”