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Judge denies private school restraining order request over COVID order

Three schools have sued Lucas Co. Health Department over an order suspending in-person learning and sports.
Published: Dec. 8, 2020 at 6:03 PM EST
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - A federal judge has rejected a request from Lucas County private schools to keep their doors open in the midst of this coronavirus surge.

Three schools are challenging the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department’s order to suspend in-person learning and sports -- Emanuel Christian, Monclova Christian, and St. John’s Jesuit. Their lawyers have asked for a temporary restraining order to stop the Health Department’s order, saying this rule violates their protection of religious freedoms.

On Monday, district judge Jeffrey J. Helmick denied their request for a temporary restraining order, saying they were unlikely to succeed at a full hearing.

[Editor’s Note: The original story from Dec. 8 appears below.]

Monclova Christian Academy knows all too well that COVID-19 is serious. The head pastor said the school was closed for two weeks as it dealt with a COVID spread. For them, the legal issue isn’t the virus.

Pastor Jeremy Rands says this about unnecessary government overreach. The pastor made a recorded message earlier this week in which he said, “We don’t need an unelected board dictating and placing orders upon us. And as an American, we need to realize that is dangerous.”

“It’s not that the Lucas County Board of Health can’t ever shut them down in response to COVID,” said Lee Strang, J.D. from the University of Toledo. “It’s if the Lucas County Board of Health is closing those religious schools, they need to do so in a way that’s fair to them as compared to other non-religious activities, and they need to have some strong reasons.”

Strang is a UT constitutional law professor and expects the argument in part to center on the closing of religious schools keeping kids from practicing their faith while other public places remain open.

The schools say in the lawsuit: “The act of worship (or engaging in physical or mental acts to honor God) takes many forms beyond singing songs in the assembled company of other believers. For many, religious education and religious worship go hand-in-glove.”

“On one hand, the Board of Health is saying ‘Hey, you religious schools, you can’t fulfill your religious mission, but if you want to go to the casino go ahead,’” said Strang.

The Health Department’s lawyers, in a filing Tuesday, countered the suit saying they do have the lawful ability to close schools in a pandemic and that it’s being done across all schools in Lucas County, not just religious schools.

“One of the things the plaintiffs have to show in order for their claim to be powerful under current Supreme Court jurisprudence is that their religious activities are being treated less well than secular activities,” said Strang.

The court has given the schools until Thursday for a response to the Health Department’s filing. That’s when we may learn if a hearing will be set for a temporary restraining order.

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