Anna Staver, Columbus Dispatch |
Ohio’s attorney general thinks religious schools in the state can’t be forced to close their doors even if a county health department bans all in-person instruction.
“This order violates the Free Exercise Clause,” Dave Yost wrote in a brief filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on Monday. “That clause prohibits the government from discriminating against religion.”
The discrimination that Yost and a handful of religious schools near Toledo believe to be happening stems from a health order issued in late November by the Lucas County Regional Board of Health. It closed grades 7-12, both public and parochial, for in-person instruction until January 11 in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The problem that Yost and the four schools that sued in federal court have is that other businesses such as casinos, restaurants and gyms could all continue providing in-person service to their customers.
“That prohibition on discrimination means that, ‘once a State creates a favored class of businesses,’ it ‘must justify why [religious institutions] are excluded from that favored class …,” Yost wrote in his brief. Basically, “it burdens religious practice; those burdens are unequal to the burdens imposed on secular entities, and the disparate treatment cannot survive strict scrutiny.”