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Oregon sued for banning religious schools while letting public schools reopen in person

No public health benefit – just fear of ‘mass exodus’ from public schools

Most of my relatives live in the high desert country of Oregon near the borders with Washington and Idaho. It’s a sparsely populated area, the northeast corner of a massive congressional district that encompasses the vast majority of the state – the only one that reliably votes Republican.

Needless to say, Eastern Oregon doesn’t have large schools or school districts.

But Democratic Gov. Kate Brown is apparently deathly afraid that this conservative voter base that hates her bisexual Portland guts will pull all their kids out of public schools because, you know, these bureaucrats refused to do their jobs for several months in the name of COVID-19 prevention.

So she simply made it a crime – yes, 30 days in jail and fines – to reopen private schools in person.

The Alliance Defending Freedom is taking the governor to court for this abomination, which allows public schools of up to 75 students to reopen. It’s obvious from Brown’s own office that this blatant discrimination has nothing to do with science: The same day the disparate treatment was announced, her spokesperson warned of a “mass exodus” from public schools if they didn’t reopen in person.

It’s certainly not the first time a government has used COVID-19, which is not a threat to children, as a pseudoscientific excuse to cripple religious expression. The District of Columbia banned churches from even meeting outside in numbers greater than 100, contrary to its supposed rules for racial justice protests that Mayor Muriel Bowser herself attended. (A federal judge recently granted one D.C. church the right to meet while its First Amendment lawsuit continues.)

Brown’s office had promised Hermiston Christian School for nearly two months that it could serve its 51 students in person before flip-flopping and ordering private schools in late July to remain closed, according to the alliance. The reversal was such an “afterthought” that the state’s new guidance section regulating religious schools was numbered “0,” according to the suit.

MORE: Students’ speech rights under threat as COVID restrictions loom

The discrimination is particularly stupid and unconstitutional when applied to Hermiston Christian School specifically, because it has “an even larger physical environment” than the local public school but the same number of students, Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker said in the alliance statement. Other than its Christian mission, the school is functionally no different than the public schools that are allowed to reopen.

The last straw came when Umatilla County told the school that it couldn’t provide in-person instruction despite the state signing off on its designation as an “Emergency Child Care Facility” in late September, meaning school-aged children were allowed on premises.

This blatant anti-religious discrimination has real costs for the school, which had “retained its teachers and staff, made expenditures to meet or exceed the state’s health and safety protocols, and told parents that they could plan on in-person classes for their children,” based on the state’s earlier promises, the alliance said.

It lost 10 families who had started the process to enroll their children for the fall when the state banned religious schools from teaching on premises, according to the suit. Not only is this squarely discriminatory, but because the school is only eight miles from the border, the ban won’t provide “any public health benefit” for its community: Washington schools are “open for in-person instruction.”

Some families have already started the paperwork to move their children’s schooling across the border, the lawsuit says: “There is a significant risk that HCS will be forced to permanently close if it is not allowed to reopen for in-person instruction this semester.”

Every time one of the lockdown cheerleaders scolds you for ignoring the “science,” tell them about Governor Brown’s ridiculous, bigoted, pseudoscientific crackdown on religious education.

MORE: Two law firms have filed dozens of COVID-19 lawsuits against universities

IMAGE: Dennis Owusu-Ansah/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.