Oregon Dem governor sued for allowing public schools to open while keeping Christian schools closed
November 3, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has again been sued for targeting religious groups with discriminatory coronavirus measures. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit against the Democrat for forcing small private religious schools to remain closed while allowing similar-sized public schools to operate.
The suit was filed on behalf of Hermiston Christian School, which has a student population of about 50. The school is permitted to operate as a daycare, but teachers offering care could be jailed or fined for teaching while monitoring the children.
The state has issued at least eight different sets of guidelines for schools since the beginning of the pandemic. Through June and July, private religious schools were told they would be allowed to resume in-person classes in the fall. Many of these schools invested significant amounts of money to ensure coronavirus protocols could be met, only to be denied permission to operate.
The version released September 8 allowed schools in “small public districts” with enrollment of 75 or fewer students to work with the local public health authorities “to establish the criteria … and open the school(s) in the district to in-person instruction.”
Ryan Tucker, ADF senior counsel and director of the Center for Christian Ministries, wrote at The Federalist that this rule had originally included private schools but was “quietly changed” a week later, stating instead, “This same rule does not extend the same benefit to private religious schools, effectively ensuring that parents who need to send their students to school will be forced to send them to public schools, even if they would prefer a private religious school.”
Seemingly in response to the ADF lawsuit, the state updated its guidelines once again on October 30, substantially altering the section on exceptions containing the above rule. The new rule states that “small and remote” private and public schools with enrollments of 75 or fewer students can reopen if they meet certain criteria. Most important, it specifies that such schools must be “more than 25 miles by the nearest traveled road form any town or city with a population of over 3,000 people.”
In a statement given to LifeSiteNews, Tucker wrote of this rule change, “It is a shame that it took a federal lawsuit for the state to change its unconstitutional policy of allowing small public schools to open while denying that option to similarly-sized religious schools. Oregon should not be singling out religious schools for worse treatment.”
Despite the fact that Hermiston Christian School is in a town of more than 3,000 people and so will be required to remain closed under the current rules, Tucker is committed to continue helping them. “But now, the state has imposed different restrictions that still make it difficult for Hermiston Christian. We will continue our lawsuit and work with our client so it can re-open for in-person instruction, just like another small public school is doing in the same county,” he wrote.
This is not the first religious discrimination case in Oregon that ADF has pursued. In May, ADF sued the Democrat governor for banning church services of more than 25 people when other businesses, such as restaurants, were permitted a greater capacity.
The state loosened restrictions on church services in response to that lawsuit, which was subsequently dropped. Churches were then allowed up to 250 participants as long as they could maintain social distancing between groups. The limit was reduced to 100 in July, and new restrictions imposed in September have reduced them even further.