At the end of last week, an Oregon Christian school filed a lawsuit against the governor and several state officials over restrictions it claims promote religious discrimination.
Alliance Defending Freedom filed a suit against the state of Oregon on behalf of Hermiston Christian School in Umatilla County, a small private school located three hours east of Portland.
The Christian institution claims that Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 restrictions allow small public schools to met in-person but denies the same right to private schools of the same size.
The governor and other state departments prohibit schools from gathering until certain coronavirus testing metrics are met. The restrictions, however, come with certain exemptions. Small schools of 75 students or less will be allowed to meet on school property — unless the school is a private Christian institution.
“After 41 years of faithful service, Hermiston Christian School… could be forced to shut its doors for good unless the court stops an obvious case of discrimination,” the attorneys wrote in the introduction.
“Defendants’ COVID-19 orders and guidance generally prohibit in-person instruction but grant a ‘small school’ exception to public schools, while denying the same exception to private religious schools… in Umatilla County.”
Private school officials that violate the state’s restrictions are subject to a fine of up to $1,250 and could face imprisonment for a maximum of 30 days.
The Arizona-based law firm alleges that the state of Oregon violated the religious liberty and parental rights established by the U.S. Constitution’s First and Fourteenth Amendments. Religious institutions make up 100% of the private schools in Umatilla County as well as a majority of the private schools within Oregon’s borders, the lawsuit claims.
“[Oregon targets] religious schools for less favorable treatment compared to public schools, even when religious schools serve the same number of students [and] engage in the same type of activity,” the lawsuit says.
ADF also wrote that religious schools “meet in a larger and safer physical environment, follow the same health and safety protocols, and operate in the very same county where local public health authorities allow public schools to invoke the ‘small school’ exception.”
According to ADF senior counsel Ryan Tucker, the state’s policy regarding in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic is discriminatory.
“While responding to crises can be difficult, this case is not,” Ryan said. “There is no legitimate reason for allowing public schools with 75 or fewer students to provide in-person instruction while denying the same opportunity to small private schools, including religious ones.”