Court: Ohio county order violated Christian schools’ rights

CINCINNATI (AP) — A federal appeals court Thursday provided the go-ahead for Christian schools in an Ohio county to resume holding in-person classes during the pandemic.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel unanimously granted an injunction to Christian schools in the Toledo area who say their rights to religious expression have been violated by the Lucas County-Toledo Health Department’s order shutting down all schools for grades 7-12 Dec. 4 until Jan. 11. Their attorneys pointed out that the order for all schools, public, private and parochial, aimed at stopping COVID-19 spread still allowed non-religious businesses such as gyms, office buildings and a casino to remain open.

The order that forced Christian schools to close, “when measured against the more favorable treatment afforded these secular actors, amounts to a prohibition of religious exercise in violation of the First Amendment,” the ruling stated.

The Ohio Christian Education Network, a coalition that includes other Christian schools around the state, was among those who challenged the health department order. The injunction, pending further appeal, has potential implications for similar situations across the circuit’s four states of Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee.

“Today’s order is a victory for families, for religious freedom, and for all those willing to courageously stand up against unnecessary and overreaching government orders,” Aaron Baer, president of the Citizens for Community Values, which leads the Ohio Christian Education Network coalition, said in a statement.

The ruling stated that the Christian schools had taken steps to enforce social distancing and health safety. The Ohio attorney general’s office had filed a friend-of-the-court brief on their behalf.

Messages seeking comment were left by telephone and email Thursday for the Lucas County prosecutor’s office.

Brian Fox, a Cincinnati attorney representing the Christian schools, said it was a ruling for the First Amendment “that made common sense.”

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Follow Dan Sewell at https://www.twitter.com/dansewell

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