Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest shutdown edict violates the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion, according to a new lawsuit.
The lawsuit filed by the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools, which represents 400 schools across Michigan, objects to a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services order that keeps high schools closed for in-person learning. The order was set to expire Tuesday but has been now been extended, prompting the lawsuit.
“The state’s latest order inhibits the faith formation of students and violates their constitutional right to practice religion while leaving open secular businesses where transmission of COVID-19 is more likely to occur,” MANS director Brian Broderick told MLive.
“While faith is integrated into curriculum, physical presence at a faith-based school allows for additional, unique integration beyond classroom instruction. This includes religious services, participation in the sacraments and the overall Christian community.”
The order deprives students of “the religious formation and community that is at the core of their faith and the very reason for their enrollment,” the filing said, according to The Detroit News. “Forbidding students from attending religious schools that have protective measures in place, and while permitting countless other gatherings that pose equal or higher risks, is irrational and arbitrary.”
“The Order is a one-size-must-fit-all directive that does not allow flexibility or tailoring by schools to allow in-person religious formation,” the suit said.
The state “allows other activities with demonstrably higher risks to continue,” according to the lawsuit, the Detroit Free Press reported. “These include professional and collegiate athletics, tattoo parlors and hair salons.”
Michigan’s “prior three-week ‘pause’ order has now been extended and plaintiffs face the prospect of indefinite future extensions. This extension must not be permitted,” the suit said.
Officials said Michigan discriminated against religious schools.
“Today’s order confirms our fear that MDHHS will continue to make decisions about closing schools, and in our specific case Catholic schools, without regard to the obvious and proven efficacy of our local COVID-19 school safety plans nor the uniqueness of our mission-based schools which are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution – therefore we support our families and schools in challenging this decision in court,” Tom Maloney, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Lansing, said in a news release posted on the website of the Diocese of Lansing.
The release said the order was “scientifically, educationally and constitutionally unjustified.”
“The fact is, our high schools’ COVID-19 safety plans, with their robust health and safety protocols, are working well at protecting both our school communities and the community at large, while also ensuring that our young people can receive the in-person education and formation that is so irreplaceable to their spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and social development,” Maloney said.
The lawsuit seeks to allow the schools to legally reopen. Officials said the order ignores the reality that the schools being shuttered have not been places where the virus has spread.
“All the evidence shows that during the three months we had in-person education at Lansing Catholic there were no COVID-19 outbreaks; no spread of COVID-19; and no hospitalizations of students or staff, thus adding no burden to our healthcare system,” said Dominic Iocco, president of Lansing Catholic High School.
“Hence, we simply want to continue with our tried and tested COVID-19 safety plan to safely educate and form our students consistent with our constitutional religious liberties.”
Officials noted that national leaders support keeping schools open for in-person learning.
“The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other national experts have indicated over and over that schools are safe places largely because they are closely regulated and supervised environments,” said John DeJak, president of Father Gabriel Richard High School.
“The truth is that teachers and parents are becoming increasingly concerned by the damage that is being done to our children’s educational, emotional and mental wellbeing by not being in-person at school.
“And yet, to date, the state has still not explained why they have closed our high schools while allowing retail, fitness centers, tattoo parlors, hair salons, and other secular businesses to remain open,” he said.
Maloney said the schools had to act to protect the students entrusted to them.
“Listening to Gov. Whitmer and [MDHHS Director Robert Gordon], our great concern is that high school closures will continue to be extended indefinitely and without considering the success of our safety plans or acknowledging the uniqueness of our mission-focused programs,” Maloney told MLive.
“Our schools do so much more than pass on knowledge. Our families choose our schools because of the formation of the entire person — spiritually, intellectually and socially. That cannot be replicated online,” he said.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.