How is it that small public schools are allowed to open, but small Christian private schools must remain closed? We don’t have to wonder—when asked why private schools were closed, a policy advisor for Governor Kate Brown [D-Oregon] discussed the potential for a “mass exodus” from public schools and a reduction of public school funding that might occur if parents dis-enrolled from public schools and sought in-person education elsewhere.Alliance Defending Freedom

A New Religious Landscape

Private schools across the US  are being targeted for closure by state health departments and state governors citing health concerns. At least, this is the justification. The cases shown below indicate the use of government power to target schools (and churches: read more about cases in Nevada and California) in an apparent effort to suppress religion — specifically, conservative Christianity. Consider that this or any pandemic is a sliding scale. What constitutes a health crisis? Nearly any health situation could, in the future, become justification for the state to unilaterally close down our religious institutions.

By enforcing harsher rules against Christian organizations than those in place for other organizations, these politicians seem to be testing “whether the United States Constitution can hold up in times of duress. Some government officials seem to believe that they can suspend the Constitution during a pandemic—testing the limits of religious freedom.” —Alliance Defending Freedom

We’ve compiled here several cases from around the country.


Oregon

Oregon Closes Small Christian School But Allows Small Public Schools to Open

The state of Oregon has allowed schools under 75 students to open, but not private schools of the same size. Apparently, Oregon is afraid that private schools will grow in popularity, and has therefore decided to shut down Hermiston Christian School:

“How is it that small public schools are allowed to open, but small Christian private schools must remain closed? We don’t have to wonder—when asked why private schools were closed, a policy advisor for Governor Kate Brown [D] discussed the potential for a ‘mass exodus’ from public schools and a reduction of public school funding that might occur if parents dis-enrolled from public schools and sought in-person education elsewhere.” — Alliance Defending Freedom

Alliance Defending Freedom has taken on the case. Read the full story and “Civil rights lawsuit filed by private Christian school organization.”


Michigan

ACCS School Targeted

BACKGROUND: The Supreme Court and Legislature of Michigan vs the Governor of Michigan

On October 2, the Michigan Supreme Court overturned the Governor of Michigan’s [D-Gretchen Whitmer] executive orders in regards to mask mandates and gatherings, calling the governor’s orders illegal and a “profound” seizure of power:

“The Michigan State Court ruled that Gov. Whitmer lacks the power to issue executive orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic without consent from the Legislature.”

The School

“This summer, Libertas Christian School developed a comprehensive plan for in-person education. The plan had the widespread support of school parents, all of whom chose to send their students to the school for in-person instruction. In fact, enrollment increased by approximately 50 students this year. … Citing an anonymous complaint over chapel singing, and without visiting the school or exploring options for the operation of the school with the Headmaster, the County and State are demanding that Libertas cease and desist all operations, which would prevent it from performing its core mission of providing a classical, Bible-based education to its students.

“‘The Whitmer Administration lost before the highest court in Michigan and is now sidestepping the Michigan Constitution to violate the most basic rights of the students and parents,’ said Phill Kline, Director of the Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society. … The Amistad Project is battling Governor Whitmer in five cases filed in various Michigan courts and ‘will continue to challenge Governor Whitmer who has removed herself from the lawmaking process and has instead declared herself to be the law,’ Kline said.” (Excerpt from Amistad Project)

Prior to this, the lawsuit points out, the state of Michigan attempted to block funding to private schools through a lawsuit challenging federal guidelines that give direct coronavirus aid to private schools.

To read the full details of the case go to: ACCS School Targeted in Michigan


New Mexico

Public schools allowed to open at 50% while private schools restricted to 25% capacity

U.S. Justice Department Sides with Father of Private School Student

According to U.S. News & World Report, “Albuquerque-based U.S. Attorney John Anderson filed a statement of interest that argues the state is violating the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by limiting attendance at private schools to 25% of building capacity under a public health order. … The limit is set at 50% for public schools under guidance from the Public Education Department.”

The article goes on to say that “The administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham [D] says public schools have greater oversight requirements that accompany the potentially higher 50% capacity limit…”

Is it acceptable for the state to penalize private schools because they believe private schools have too much freedom? This would seem to force private schools to either lose students, shut down, or accept government control. Anderson stated, “There is no good reason to penalize students just because they choose to attend a private school.”

A justice department letter clarifies:

“Parents have a fundamental right under the United States Constitution, without interference from the government, to select the school for their children of their choice, whether a public school, a parochial school, or a non-religious private school,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “New Mexico’s response to COVID-19 has infringed that right by adopting one rule for public schools and another for private schools, resulting in private schools remaining closed for in-person instruction, without justification. There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution and New Mexico’s differential standards for private and public schools cannot stand.” Read the full statement.

New Mexico’s Order for Private Schools


Maryland

In Maryland, parents have taken to the streets to protest the attempted closure by their county health department of all private schools. Maryland public schools are still in remote learning, and it appears that, similar to the state of Oregon, Montgomery County is afraid that they will lose students to the private schools who have prepared to re-open in person.

A lawsuit brought against Montgomery County health officer Dr. Travis Gayles, by six families from different private schools in Montgomery County, states:

“There has been no outbreak or particular public health emergency focused on non-public schools in Montgomery County to prompt this order. Instead, it appears to be a political response, an answer to complaints by some public school parents about ‘why their schools are closed and private schools are not.’ ”

The Governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan [R], has opposed the health department in this case, stating that county health officials overstepped their authority.


California

Governor Newsom puts politics before the well-being of students

A lawsuit filed by parents of both public and private school students is challenging Governor Newsom’s [D] school closure orders.

“The lawsuit accuses Newsom of putting politics ahead of children and denying children access to a meaningful education. It says school closures will disproportionately hurt students of low-income families, students with disabilities and students of color.” (Read The New Yorker: The Students Left Behind by Remote Learning.)

The filing states, “In the Defendants’ rush to enact these new restrictions, they have placed politics ahead of the wellbeing of children, and children’s important — indeed, fundamental — interest in receiving equal access to meaningful education.”

Read more: News Break, San Diego Union Tribune,  and The Los Angeles Times


Parents Turn to Private Schools

Education Week reports that private schools are catching parents’ eyes as public schools remain closed or in remote learning. “In Wake County, N.C.,” Education Week reports, “concerns about the virus prompted the Wake County district to begin the year with remote instruction.The weekend after the school’s district’s announcement, a private academy, Thales, received 500 applications.”

Education Week goes on to say that smaller class size makes it easier for private schools to comply with state guidelines.  Also, because private schools are independent, they have more flexibility: “private schools can make decisions about facilities and operations without answering to teachers’ unions and without concern for consistency across a large school system.”

Nevada is reporting a similar scenario. The Las Vegas Sun reports that, even though public schools in Vegas are offering two days a week in person, parents are turning to private schools to get their children back in the classroom:

“To even suggest that distance learning or any version of distance learning is effective, especially for small children or children with special needs, is shortsighted.”

The article goes on to say that a current employee of the Clark County School District is getting a second job in order to put her children in private school. Read the full article.