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Ohio Catholic classical school sues city to protect civil rights, religious freedom

ADF attorneys file lawsuit challenging South Euclid ordinance that threatens school’s beliefs
This Catholic School Is Fighting for Its Right to Hire Employees that Share Its Beliefs

SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a small, Catholic college preparatory school filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday to challenge an Ohio city’s ordinance that requires the school to violate its religious beliefs in employment, admissions, and other policies or risk fines and jail time.

The Lyceum provides 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. But in 2018, the South Euclid City Council passed a sweeping ordinance that could force the school to hire teachers or enroll students who disagree with its mission and teachings.

“Religious schools like The Lyceum must be free to operate consistently with their faith without fear of unjust government punishment—that is their right under the First Amendment,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Kiefer. “But the city’s ordinance threatens this small school with criminal penalties simply for selecting faculty and students who share its religious convictions. The Lyceum’s parents, students, and faculty have agreed to live by community standards rooted in Catholic teaching. The city’s hostile regulation not only threatens the school, it also undermines the rights of parents and students who deliberately seek out this unique, faith-based education.”

Initial drafts of the South Euclid ordinance contained an explicit provision that allowed religious organizations to act consistently with their mission and teachings, but the city council removed those protections from the final text. The ordinance is also vague, making it impossible for The Lyceum’s administrators to know whether the school’s policies are in violation of the law.

Although the school has made multiple attempts to obtain clarification, the city twice illegally refused to answer the school’s public records request. And when the school directly asked the city whether its ordinance applies to The Lyceum, the city refused to say. So the school’s leaders are left with no other option but to proceed to federal court, reasonably fearing that living out and articulating their faith would directly violate city law and put them at risk of an up to $500 fine, restitution, or up to 60 days in jail per occurrence.

“The First Amendment doesn’t allow government hostility, targeting, or discrimination against religious schools because of their beliefs,” said Kiefer. “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 lawsuit, The Lyceum v. The City of South Euclid—filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division—argues that the city’s ordinance violates the First Amendment, the 14th Amendment, and the Ohio Constitution. Matthew Nee, one of more than 3,300 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case for the church.

  • Pronunciation guide: Lyceum (lye-SEE’-uhm)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.


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Christiana Holcomb
Christiana Kiefer
Senior Counsel
Christiana (Holcomb) Kiefer serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where she is a key member of the Center for Conscience Initiatives.