A coalition of some 400 private and religious schools are suing Michigan's top health official, arguing that the extension of a statewide ban on in-person learning violated the students' constitutional rights.
Three Catholic high schools, along with the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools (MANS) that represents some 400 institutions, argued that they should be allowed to open, noting they have diligently followed their safety protocols and cooperated with state and local health officials, and their infection rates remain low.
"Every day that students at MANS-member schools cannot gather together, the students and families are deprived of the religious formation and community that is at the core of their faith and the very reason for their enrollment," the complaint stated, adding that college football, as well as other secular activities "with demonstrably higher risks," are still permitted under the order.
"Forbidding students from attending religious schools that have protective measures in place, and while permitting countless other gatherings that pose equal or higher risks, is irrational and arbitrary," the complaint read.
Brian Broderick, executive director of the MANS, said in a statement that the state's in-person learning ban violates the students' constitutional right to practice religion, as the religious educational experience cannot be meaningfully accomplished without the students' physical presence.
"While faith is integrated into curriculum, physical presence at a faith-based school allows for additional, unique integration beyond classroom instruction. This includes religious services, participation in the sacraments, and the overall Christian community," Broderick said.
In another November lawsuit, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of New York City's Orthodox Jewish community, blocking New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo from enforcing an occupancy limit on places of worship in his state.
"Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten," the majority opinion read. "The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty."