The United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a request made by nine Ohio parochial schools to stop a resolution issued by the Toledo-Lucas County Department of Health that shut down in-person learning in the plaintiff schools.
The court issued a temporary order halting the health department from enforcing the resolution in the schools based on the likelihood the order violates the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.
Three schools, Monclova Christian Academy, Emmanuel Christian, St John’s Jesuit, were joined by six more schools (as part of a coalition) and Citizens for Community Values (doing business as Ohio Christian Education Network), to appeal to the federal court after a district court denied a temporary restraining order, then denied plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction in mid-December.
The Ohio Star reported that Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a brief earlier this week supporting the effort by the Ohio private schools. In the brief, the AG’s office wrote:
“The order, which is designed to combat the spread of COVID19, requires all schools, including religious schools, to cease providing most in-person classes. Yet it allows many categories of secular entities, such as casinos and gyms, to continue providing in-person services to their customers.”
According to the Sixth Circuit Court Order, part of the logic the district court used to reject the injunctive relief sought by the schools was based on language the health department used in their resolution “[s]chools may open to hold religious educational classes or religious ceremonies.”
However, instead of accepting the lower court’s logic, the Sixth Circuit Court re-examined the argument and acknowledged what the schools presented as a counterpoint – “[b]ut the plaintiffs argue that the exercise of their faith is not so neatly compartmentalized. To the contrary, they say, their faith pervades each day of in-person schooling. Throughout each school day and class , for example, Monclova Christian Academy ‘makes every effort to point students to a dependency on Christ in every situation of life, whether that situation is intellectual or interpersonal.’ “
The Sixth Circuit Court considered four factors before issuing the injunction, pending appeal: (1) whether the applicant is likely to succeed on the merits of the appeal; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably harmed absent the injunction; (3) whether the injunction will injure the other parties; and (4) whether the public interest favors an injunction.
The conclusion, the Court wrote is “[t]he plaintiffs’ motion for an injunction pending appeal is granted. The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department is enjoined, during the pendency of this appeal, from enforcing Resolution No. 2020.11.189 or otherwise prohibiting in-person attendance at the plaintiffs’ schools.”
The full order can be read here.
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