Ohio’s attorney general, Dave Yost, is joining religious schools to push back against a public health order issued by the Lucas County Regional Board of Health back in November.
Another day, another person pushing back against the restrictive measures put in place by public health officials and health departments across the country to slow the spread of COVID-19. This time, it’s Ohio’s attorney general, Dave Yost, that is saying enough when it comes to schools. In fact, he filed a brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Court because he believed “religious schools in the state can’t be forced to close their doors even if a county health department bans all in-person instruction.”
In his brief, Yost said:
“This order violates the Free Exercise Clause…That clause prohibits the government from discriminating against religion.”
According to Yost, the discrimination allegations stem from a health order issued back in November by the Lucas County Regional Board of Health. Under that order, grades 7-12 in public and parochial schools were forced to end in-person instruction until mid-January to help stop the spread of COVID-19. However, Yost, and the leaders of four private schools, note in the suit that while in-person instruction must end, other businesses, “such as casinos, restaurants, and gyms could all continue providing in-person service to their customers.” The brief states:
“That prohibition on discrimination means that, ‘once a State creates a favored class of businesses,’ it ‘must justify why [religious institutions] are excluded from that favored class…it burdens religious practice; those burdens are unequal to the burdens imposed on secular entities, and the disparate treatment cannot survive strict scrutiny.”
This marks the first time that Yost has chimed in on a “local or statewide health order” since the start of the pandemic. He has, however, made many public statements “about his role in enforcing health orders during a pandemic.” Back in March, he said:
“Establishing roles in a crisis is critical. In the current COVID-19 crisis, the Attorney General’s office plays a specific role…We are the prosecutor and the Ohio Department of Health is the police officer. My office will take quick enforcement action once an investigation is completed by the Department of Health, when facts to support a violation are determined, and a case is forwarded to my office.”
To Yost, the latest Lucas County order seems unconstitutional, and as a result, he is asking “the court of appeals to grant the schools’ request for an injunction that would let them re-open while the case is litigated.” The health department had until earlier this week to submit its arguments to the court.