DC sued over its mask mandate for private schools

A religious, conservative group is suing D.C. on behalf of two parents who send their kids to a Catholic school in Northwest over the city’s mask mandate.

The Alliance for Defending Freedom argues that the city is violating the First Amendment by applying a mask mandate to religious schools while making masks optional in other, non-secular settings.

“Mayor Bowser has lifted the mask mandate for virtually everyone in the city and virtually every type of activity in the city,” argued Frank Chang, a lawyer with ADF. “But under Mayor Bowser’s latest order, school children who go to Catholic schools still have to wear the masks seven hours a day, all day.”

He said by law, that’s unequal treatment for Catholic schools.

“Whenever the government burdens Catholic schools or religious schools or other types of religious exercises in a way that they don’t do so for comparable secular activities, that’s an unacceptable and unequal treatment,” he said.

In a statement to WTOP, the Archdiocese of Washington said it was aware of the lawsuit but was not part of it, and that it has been in contact with Bowser’s office about the city’s COVID-19 protection policies.

Last week, the city cited low vaccination rates among children as the reason that the mask mandate is still in place in DCPS. But, Chang said, “Public schools are not the only comparators. … If the city is willing to allow a child to go to a Wizards game without a mask on for hours, we don’t see a reason why sitting in a Catholic classroom should be burdened in a way that going to a basketball game is not.”

Chang said the ADF reached out to the city last week, when it lifted the mask mandate in most indoor settings, but never got an answer.

Masks are optional in Catholic schools throughout Maryland, including in classrooms in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, where public schools still require students to wear masks.

Requests for comment from Bowser’s office have not been returned.

The Alliance for Defending Freedom has been called a “hate group” because of stances it has taken, especially when it comes to legal battles targeting LGBTQ rights. The ADF has vigorously disputed that characterization, saying it’s “dedicated to protecting the religious freedom and free speech rights” of all Americans.

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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