Are private, religious schools exempt from school opening restrictions? Texas, California go in different directions
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion stating that private, religious schools are not bound by local restrictions intended to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. In a letter, Paxton argued that not only do the governor’s current state-wide orders preclude closing religious schools, such closure would violate state and federal law protecting religious liberty.
Because a local order closing a religious private school or institution is inconsistent with the Governor’s order, any local order is invalid to the extent it purports to do so.
Moreover, local public health orders attempting to restrict the provision of religious instruction through religious private schools violate the United States and Texas Constitutions and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. As the Supreme Court reaffirmed last week [in Our Lady of Guadalupe School], “[t]he First Amendment protects the right of religious institutions ‘to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.
In California, meanwhile, new state-wide rules have halted plans of Catholic schools in Los Angeles to reopen in-person while public schools in the area were already limited to virtual learning only.
Religion News Service reports:
Under [the state’s] new requirements issued July 17, private and public schools alike will not be allowed to reopen their campuses if they are located in counties that remain on the state’s monitoring list.
Currently, more than 30 counties in California remain on the monitoring list as COVID-19 cases have surged across the state.
As school systems and states across the country struggle with reopening plans, the ability of religious schools to claim a religious freedom exemption from restrictions designed to protect public health may lead to a new round of legal disputes every bit as hotly contested as those surrounding worship service restrictions.
Stay tuned for updates as the school year approaches.