A Catholic school in Michigan is suing the state, claiming mask mandates violate religious freedom.
With the dreaded delta variant sweeping the nation, some public health officials and city leaders are debating whether or not to reinstitute lockdowns and other mitigation methods that shuttered schools and businesses. However, there is growing evidence that shuttering the country and forcing people to wear face coverings may not be as easy as the first time around. Already parents are showing up to school board meetings in droves, pleading with officials not to implement masks on young children who are still reeling from the effects of the previous school year. One Catholic school in Lansing, Michigan, took it a step further and filed a lawsuit against state officials over face masks in school, claiming such an order would violate the school’s religious practices.
Resurrection School has a small student body that clocks in at around 150 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The school, along with two parents, originally filed the suit last October when the mask mandate was still in place for school students. A lower court ended up siding with state officials, and on July 21, the case went before a federal appeals court. It’s important to note that since the suit was filed, most of the COVID-19 restrictions in Michigan, including the mask mandate, have been lifted. However, the school and parents want to continue the suit because there is growing concern that the state might try to reimplement the mask mandate in schools come fall.
Resurrection School is part of the Church of the Resurrection. As a Catholic school, it emphasizes a traditional curriculum. When commenting on the suit, Father Steve Mattson, the pastor, said the “case still went forward out of a concern that the mask mandate can be reinstated at any time, and we want to be able to get in front of it.” He added that students “fifth grade and younger at the school never wore masks during the previous school year, when the school stayed open in-person all year, and there was no spread of COVID-19.”
Throughout the litigation process, the plaintiffs have been represented by American Freedom Law Center, a public interest law firm. On Wednesday, the case will go before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Last December, “Judge Paul Maloney of the Western District of Michigan did not grant the school’s request for a preliminary injunction to ban enforcement of the state’s mask mandate for students in grades five and younger stressing the requirement was neutrally applied and did not target religious schools.”
However, the suit argues that mask mandates contradict what the school emphasizes in its teachings: “that every human has dignity and is made in God’s image and likeness.” The plaintiffs argue, “Unfortunately, a mask shields our humanity. And because God created us in His image, we are masking that image.” It further notes that masks “make us anti-social…and they interfere with relations.” It states:
“As the Catholic faith teaches, we are relational beings. And our existence as relational beings points to the Holy Trinity. A mask is disruptive to this essential element of the Catholic faith, and it is disruptive to the teaching of young children.”
On top of that, the suit notes that, throughout last year, many students “suffered from allergies, breathing or focusing issues and that the masks interfered with their ability to keep up academically and socially.” It adds, “The challenged orders single out children who cannot tolerate masks, making them unable to participate in religious education.”
Lastly, the suit states that the continued wearing of face coverings “communicates the message that COVID-19 continues to be a terrifying and deadly threat, even for young students who are socially distanced…science and data do not support this message or the mask mandate.” It adds:
“During this current political climate, a mask has become a symbol. And because a mask has become a political symbol, the wearing of a mask is a form of symbolic speech.”