Federal judge: Detroit students have no 'fundamental right' to education

By Ray Downs

July 3 (UPI) -- A federal judge on Friday ruled that children do not have a fundamental right to learn how to read and write.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy III's ruling came in response to a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of several Detroit-area public school students who said their schools were in such disarray -- from dilapidated buildings to classrooms with no teachers -- that the state was not only failing its duties, but violating the students' 14th Amendment rights under the due process and equal protection clauses by prohibiting them of the ability to fully participate in society. And Plaintiffs wanted the court to force the state to make reforms.


But Murphy said the 14th Amendment does not mention literacy, so the students had no right to a quality education.

"Plainly, literacy -- and the opportunity to obtain it -- is of incalculable importance," Murphy wrote in his opinion. "As Plaintiffs point out, voting, participating meaningfully in civic life, and accessing justice require some measure of literacy. Applying for a job, securing a place to live, and applying for government benefits routinely require the completion of written forms. Simply finding one's way through many aspects of ordinary life stands as an obstacle to one who cannot read. But those points do not necessarily make access to literacy a fundamental right."


Murphy cited several other Supreme Court cases where the importance of of a good or service "does not determine whether it must be regarded as fundamental."

"Under Plaintiffs' reasoning, if the State's failure to provide a good or service to a person results in a limitation of future opportunities and social stigma, the good or service must be a fundamental right," Murphy wrote. "Yet the same could presumably be said for a person who must go without a sanitary place to live, or must live in an abusive home -- and neither of those implicate a fundamental right."

Attorneys for the student and parent plaintiffs said they plan to appeal to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Detroit Free Press reported.

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Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney with the Public Counsel law firm in Los Angeles, said the court "got it tragically wrong when it characterized access to literacy as a privilege, instead of a right held by all children so that they may better their circumstances and meaningfully participate in our political system."

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