A small Christian school in Oregon is suing Democratic Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and other Oregon officials after claiming the state is discriminating against private and religious schools by keeping them locked down while allowing public schools to reopen.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit Friday on behalf of Hermiston Christian School, a K-12 school in Hermiston, Oregon, which has a student body of 51. The lawsuit reads in part: “After 41 years of faithful service, Hermiston Christian School (‘HCS’) could be forced to shut its doors for good unless the Court stops an obvious case of discrimination: 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 (‘Religious School Closure’) in Umatilla County.”
The lawsuit goes on to claim that even though Brown at first led the school’s leaders to believe that they would be allowed to meet in-person if they met certain health guidelines, the governor ended up shuttering private schools both in Umatilla County and other parts of the state on July 29. Public schools, however, were granted an exemption if they maintained 75 students or fewer. Violators of the governor’s order face a potential 30 day imprisonment and a fine of $1,250.
The lawsuit alleged that Brown reversed course because she feared declining public school enrollment. “The reason for Defendants’ discriminatory treatment is clear: on the very same day that Defendants continued their prohibition of in-person instruction for religious schools, a policy advisor and liaison for Governor Brown discussed the potential for a ‘mass exodus’ of children from public schools and emphasized that public schools could suffer a reduction in funding if students disenrolled to obtain education elsewhere.”
“The Religious School Closure is unconstitutional and makes no sense,” the suit continued. “The virus does not discriminate between public and religious schools; neither should the government. There is no basis for Defendants to grant a special exception for public schools while denying the same treatment to religious schools.”
“While responding to crises can be difficult, this case is not,” ADF senior counsel Ryan Tucker said in a statement. “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.”
Hermiston Christian School operates in the same county as a public school that is open, and it operates with the same number of students, who are performing the same type of activity, working in an even larger physical environment, and complying with the same health and safety protocols. Gov. Brown’s refusal to extend the same treatment to Hermiston Christian School as she does to small public schools violates the U.S. Constitution and discriminates against parents who choose to provide a religious education for their children.
The lawsuit continues, in part, “Crises do not suspend the Constitution and there is no legitimate, much less compelling, justification for suddenly prohibiting in-person religious instruction for religious schools—without financial support to carry the burden of such restrictions—while granting secular public schools exceptions and more lenient treatment.”