Catholic education, plus masks
Court nixes religious exemption to mask mandate
Some parents regard face coverings for their school-age children as an annoying but necessary measure to keep them safe. Others view mask mandates as an unwarranted instrument of governmental control. But Michigan parent Christopher Mianecki says masks inhibit children from fully engaging in religious worship, instruction, and fellowship at their school.
“When wearing facial coverings, C.M., Z.M., and N.M struggle to engage in and celebrate the Mass,” Mianecki told a federal district court in a declaration alongside a lawsuit from Lansing’s Resurrection School in October 2020. Another parent, Stephanie Smith, told the court the mask requirement “imposes a physical and communicative barrier to F.S.’s Catholic education.”
Resurrection School’s complaint contends the mandate undermines the school’s religious belief that human beings are made in the image of God.
“For example, when a student has wronged or hurt another student, a teacher guides the student through the reconciliation process and facilitates a face to face apology with the student who was harmed,” the complaint alleges. “A mask interferes with this important human interaction—an interaction that is essential to the spiritual well-being of the students.”
But a panel of judges from the 6th U.S. Circuit Appeals Court ruled 2-1 last week to uphold the now-rescinded Michigan mask mandate. Judge Karen Moore, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, concluded that because the mask requirement applied to students in grades K-5 at both religious and nonreligious schools, it was neutral and of general applicability—even though it includes medical and other exceptions. Moore found that the court had to uphold the mask requirement since it has a rational basis.
6th Circuit Judge Eugene Siler, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, dissented, arguing the case should have gone back to the district court for review in light of the Supreme Court’s more recent pandemic-related rulings.
Erin Mersino, an attorney representing the school, told The Detroit News the school will appeal to the full panel of the appeals court, especially considering an ongoing push for a statewide mandate amid surging COVID-19 cases. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Michigan have risen 175 percent since the end of June, according to The Detroit Free Press.
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