Walking into the small building that houses The Lyceum, a Catholic classical school located in Ohio, instills a sense of reverence. The school is dedicated to teaching young men and women using classical education methods that are intertwined with the school’s strong Catholic beliefs. Students go from Thursday morning Mass to learn using the Socratic method to participating in choir—all of it centered on the Catholic faith of students, teachers, and parents.
All Americans should agree that parents and students are free to pursue a faith-based education without fear of government intervention. Unfortunately, the city council of South Euclid, Ohio, passed a city ordinance that would severely punish The Lyceum for operating according to its Catholic beliefs.
Let’s take a look.
Since 2003, The Lyceum has provided its students with a faith-integrated, classical education and seeks to form “lifelong learners in a joyful pursuit of the Truth, who is Christ.” As a faith community, the school seeks to abide by and convey the teachings of the Bible and the doctrine of the Catholic Church, including their teachings on marriage and sexuality.
In 2018, the South Euclid City Council passed an ordinance that forces everyone to conform to its beliefs regarding sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). Because of The Lyceum’s Catholic beliefs, the SOGI law could force the school to hire teachers or enroll students who disagree with its mission and teachings.
A government forcing people of faith to violate their conscience is bad enough, but the city council didn’t stop there. Although an early draft of the SOGI law explicitly allowed for religious exemption to the law. But by the time the law was passed, the exemption was nowhere to be found.
Administrators at The Lyceum attended city council meetings to voice their concerns about the law, but were ignored or opposed by council members. The city council’s president even went so far as to tell The Lyceum administrators that they should allow the city to pass the law to find out what was in it.
The Lyceum made a public records request to find out if the law applies to them and followed up twice for an answer. They received radio silence from the city council—twice. Then, after The Lyceum wrote to the city asking for clarification and was again denied a clear answer, it had no choice but to file a lawsuit in federal court as it was now operating under a daily threat of steep fines and jail time. If The Lyceum is found to violate the law, it would be crushed and administrators could be jailed. But The Lyceum has already decided: it will never violate its religious convictions and submit to unjust and illegal government coercion.
Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb calls the city ordinance a “solution in search of a problem.” She explains:
The First Amendment doesn’t allow government hostility, targeting, or discrimination against religious schools because of their beliefs. Unfortunately, South Euclid is threatening to crush The Lyceum because of its beliefs. The U.S. Supreme Court has recently made it clear on at least two occasions that the First Amendment continues to protect the belief that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. That’s why we’re asking a federal court to stop the city from enforcing its flawed and hostile law.
The Lyceum is part of a growing number of religious institutions, businesses, and professionals that find themselves at odds with ordinances that seem driven by hostility against their beliefs about marriage and sexuality. The government must respect deeply held religious beliefs about human sexuality that are shared by Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other groups. But in some cases, government officials are unconstitutionally seeking to stamp out and punish beliefs that differ from theirs.
Religious schools like The Lyceum should be free to operate according to their faith without fear of unjust government punishment. It is wrong to banish religious schools from the marketplace of ideas simply for holding unpopular beliefs. If we want to have freedom for ourselves, we need to extend it to others; tolerance is a two-way street. Government officials are constitutionally bound to protect these freedoms even if their own personal beliefs about marriage and sexuality are different.