Over the summer, Hermiston Christian School in rural Oregon was busy preparing to reopen for in-person learning in the fall. It made sure to comply with the state’s health guidelines for reopening and informed parents that the school would reopen for in-person classes. It continued employing all of its teachers and staff.
And then, Oregon state officials changed their minds. They informed Hermiston Christian School that it would no longer be allowed to meet in person—they had to continue remote learning.
But not all schools in the state—or even those in the same county—shared the same fate.
Instead of requiring all similarly-sized schools to conduct classes remotely, the state allowed small public schools (under 75 students) to open in-person while keeping private schools of the same size closed. And this wasn’t just a simple policy shift. If Hermiston Christian School moved forward with in-person classes, it would face 30 days of jail time and a fine of up to $1,250.
Would you call that fair? I certainly wouldn’t. But even more than that, it’s unconstitutional. As the Supreme Court has ruled, the government cannot treat people of faith as second-class citizens. Yet, that’s exactly what Oregon was doing.
As ADF Senior Counsel Mark Lippelmann said: “Re-opening plans can differ in timing and details, but they must follow the Constitution.”
That’s why, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, Hermiston Christian School filed a lawsuit against the state.
Thankfully, after ADF filed the lawsuit, the governor eliminated the special exceptions for public schools and is now allowing Christian schools like Hermiston to safely open for in-person learning. Because private schools are no longer being treated worse than public schools, ADF dismissed the case.
This is not the first time that government officials have overstepped their authority in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some officials quickly course-correct after learning the unintended consequences of their orders. Some have taken prodding from ADF to set the record—and the law—straight. But others continue to violate the First Amendment, particularly when it comes to regulations placed on churches and other ministries.
ADF has been monitoring these situations to ensure your First Amendment rights are protected. After all, our constitutional rights are never suspended—even in the face of COVID-19.
Since the start of the pandemic, ADF has successfully defended the rights of our church and ministry clients in 16 cases. And ADF attorneys have assisted, or equipped others to assist, over 3,200 churches and ministries on COVID-19 related issues.
And you can rest assured that ADF will always defend religious liberty, the sanctity of life, free speech, and parental rights in courtrooms across the nation—whether we are in the midst of a pandemic or not.
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