Three judges from the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals issued an injunction in late December against the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, saying the department's closure of local Christian schools "burdens their religious practice."
A total of nine Christian schools sued the department in December, after it announced that starting December 4, 2020, all schools in Lucas County must close until January 11, 2021, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The schools suing the department include Monclova Christian Academy, St. John's Jesuit High School and Academy, Emmanuel Christian School, and six schools affiliated with the Ohio Christian Education Network.
"Despite all the medical evidence and experts that continue to say one of the safest places for children to be is in school, Lucas County has taken aggressive action to deny children the right to in-person education," said Aaron Baer, president of the OCEN, which sued on behalf of six of its schools. "Meanwhile, they've let casinos, strip clubs, liquor stores, and concerts continue. We cannot sit idly by while children and freedoms are being harmed."
The court of appeals decision upends an earlier ruling by a district court. It also acknowledges that the nine plaintiff schools followed stringent safety measures to keep students and staff safe and that the health department admitted that "little in-school transmission has been documented."
In deciding that closure of the Christian schools "burdens their religious practice," the court of appeals cited the plaintiffs arguments that "their faith pervades each day of in-person schooling" and is essentially part of their religious observance.