Ohio Attorney General Wrong To Insert State Into Religious School Lawsuit

The Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie (SHoWLE) have issued the fol­low­ing state­ment on the brief filed by Ohio Attorney General David Yost in sup­port of a law­suit brought by three reli­gious schools against a Lucas coun­ty pub­lic health order clos­ing all schools in the coun­ty to in-person instruc­tion.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 29, 2020

Ohio Attorney General Wrong To Insert State Into Religious School Lawsuit

Toledo  — The Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie (SHoWLE) is extreme­ly dis­ap­point­ed that Ohio Attorney General David Yost has decid­ed to insert him­self and the state into a Federal law­suit by three Lucas County reli­gious schools over the Lucas County Health Board’s order to close all schools in the coun­ty to in-person instruc­tion until January 11, 2021 due to the cur­rent COVID-19 pan­dem­ic.

Like the orig­i­nal law­suit, Attorney General Yost makes the same argu­ment that was reject­ed by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey J. Helmick on December 14th, that the reli­gious schools should be treat­ed like non-education sec­u­lar busi­ness­es that were allowed to stay open.

Judge Helmick stat­ed in his deci­sion:

“While, as Plaintiffs note, TLCHD has not ordered gyms, tan­ning salons, or casi­nos to close, (Doc. No. 1 at 5–6), these are not the rel­e­vant “com­pa­ra­ble sec­u­lar activ­i­ties.” Instead, the com­pa­ra­ble sec­u­lar activ­i­ties are edu­ca­tion­al class­es offered by all oth­er schools in Lucas County. These spe­cif­ic envi­ron­ments have sub­stan­tial­ly sim­i­lar group­ings and move­ments of indi­vid­u­als. Emmanuel Christian, St. John’s, and Monclova Christian are pro­hib­it­ed from offer­ing in-person instruc­tion to grades 9–12 (or grades 7–12) along with all oth­er Lucas County schools “because the rea­sons for sus­pend­ing in-person instruc­tion apply pre­cise­ly the same to them.””

Judge Helmick also not­ed that if we were to take the school’s argu­ment to the log­i­cal con­clu­sion, the state would not be able to reg­u­late any­thing involved with a reli­gious group.

“Plaintiffs’ argu­ments, there­fore, would extend to pro­hib­it the gov­ern­ment from reg­u­lat­ing any aspect of a Christian’s pub­lic life because, as Plaintiffs’ mis­sion state­ments make clear, the pur­pose of pro­vid­ing “a bib­li­cal foun­da­tion for … stu­dents” is to pre­pare stu­dents “to exem­pli­fy Christ [and] make Biblically-based deci­sions” through­out an indi­vid­u­al’s life, and not only dur­ing the schools years. Thus, a Christian busi­ness would be exempt from min­i­mum wage and max­i­mum hour laws,9 while Christians in states where offi­cials have issued Covid-19-related orders clos­ing restau­rants for in-person din­ing could not be pro­hib­it­ed from gath­er­ing to share a meal in one of those restaurants.10

More close­ly to the issue at stake in this case, Plaintiffs’ argu­ments would mean States could not man­date that stu­dents attend­ing parochial schools receive the equiv­a­lent num­ber of hours required of public-school stu­dents or require that parochial schools pro­vide cours­es in spe­cif­ic sub­jects.”

The law­suit, instead of try­ing to pro­tect the right of the schools to be treat­ed equal­ly, is try­ing to force the coun­ty to treat reli­gious schools dif­fer­ent­ly than oth­er schools that have com­plied with the order. They want a court to force the coun­ty to give them pref­er­en­tial treat­ment just because they are reli­gious.

This is the com­plete oppo­site mean­ing of the 1st amend­ment which is meant to keep reli­gious activ­i­ties from being sin­gled out by the gov­ern­ment for being reli­gious.

“The fact remains, right­ly or wrong­ly, that the Lucas County pub­lic health order specif­i­cal­ly exempts in-person reli­gious activ­i­ties,” SHoWLE pres­i­dent Douglas Berger said. “We believe that church­es and reli­gious groups, includ­ing reli­gious schools, should put the long-term health of their mem­bers above the need to gath­er togeth­er for their reli­gious activ­i­ties since those activ­i­ties aren’t restrict­ed to hap­pen­ing out­side the home. It is for this rea­son the pub­lic health order, that explic­it­ly exempts reli­gious activ­i­ties of the schools, isn’t an undue bur­den on them.”

It appears that Attorney General Yost has decid­ed, after claim­ing he would defend state pub­lic health orders, and against the facts of the case, that pref­er­en­tial treat­ment for reli­gious schools is in the state’s best inter­ests.

We strong­ly dis­agree with his deci­sion to insert the state in this case with his brief to the court.


Ohio AG files brief sup­port­ing reli­gious schools’ return to in-person instruc­tion

Monclova Christian Academy et al v. Toledo-Lucas County Health Department 12/14/2020

SHoWLE President Douglas Berger dis­cussed this case in Episode 16 of the Glass City Humanist pod­cast start­ing at the 08:34 mark.

About Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie

The mis­sion of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie is to pro­vide a sup­port­ive local com­mu­ni­ty for human­ists and oth­er non­the­ists, while pro­mot­ing an eth­i­cal, rea­son­able, and sec­u­lar approach to life through edu­ca­tion, com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice, out­reach, activism, and social events.

We envi­sion a Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan where sec­u­lar peo­ple are respect­ed and inte­grat­ed in broad­er soci­ety, live val­ues of rea­son and com­pas­sion, and enjoy a friend­ly human­ist com­mu­ni­ty.

*Update* - On December 31, a three judge pan­el of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals grant­ed an injunc­tion to the schools against the pub­lic health order pend­ing an appeal hear­ing.