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.
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.