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Catholic education, plus masks

Court nixes religious exemption to mask mandate


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Catholic education, plus masks

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But a panel of judges from the 6th U.S. Circuit Appeals Court ruled 2-1 last week to uphold the now-rescinded Michigan mask mandate.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.


Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C.

@slntplanet

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TCorderoNC

Masks ARE annoying....Yes. But produces no permanent loss or lasting disfunction to anyone. It is truly an inconvenience for all of us...period. But seems to be a small price to pay for the potential benefit of reducing the spread of this virus. The part that is missing from the mandate is an 'end date' or a 'scenario' that ends the mandate.
Lets choose our battles. This one might simply produce noise that distracts from other more vital wins needed to sustain liberty and religious freedom and other civil rights .
This won't last too much longer.

AlanE

To be clear, I am comparing certain disabilities (though, as a person on the autism spectrum, I'm reluctant to think of my autism as a disability--I'm different, not disabled) to wearing a mask, yes. The difficulty people experience relating to someone wearing a mask is, for all I can tell, very much like the difficulty I face daily in human interactions. I have trouble reading people's intentions daily. Most of the rest of us have trouble reading intentions when masks are being worn. So, tell me again how that makes me a lower class of human and how, if I were attending a Catholic school, my "disability" undermines the belief that we're all made in the image of God. The bottom line I'm getting to is that, so far, nobody has advanced a religious objection to mask wearing that doesn't create a lot of theological problems along the way. To be sure, I loathe wearing a mask, but I haven't found any valid religious objections to wearing one. Best not to misplay a card now that does have some usefulness in settings more important than this one.

CaptTeeAlanE

I get the religious objections to vaccines.
Yes, sick people should wear masks. But making healthy people wear masks so the sick aren't stigmatized is irrational.
The best mask studies are inconclusive about any benefit for people in a non-medical situation.

Nanamiro

So sad. Three vaccines available to everyone in the country for free, yet here we are again, covering childrens' faces 30+hours a week at school. I think we need to let the vaccines do their job and start treating people early who get Covid-19. The benefit of masks in school settings is unknown anyway. Why do it? I haven't found a study with a control group that shows any benefit.

RKIM8631

Surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, all the personnel in an operation wear masks for their operations, and some go all day. They do not want to infect the patient. The mask is a big deal if you let it become a big deal. If I am going to care for the people around me, I will try to prevent others from getting sick through my illness before I know I have the infection by wearing the mask. The children's hospitals are filling up with the delta variant, and to me inconveniences of the mask pale in comparison to having to apologize for making someone else sick. Besides, some are making clear masks already.

AlanE

I understand the concern, but it is overstated. By the logic used by Resurrection School, a blind person could never engage in "an interaction that is essential to the spiritual well-being of the students." Sorry, that's just a step too far. Much similar could be said of the often-heard argument that masks are dehumanizing. Okay, so are you saying blind people are less than human? Or how about autistic people who can't read facial expressions--with or without masks? Masks are burdensome, yes, and masking requirements are have frequently been overused, but if these arguments work against the use of masks, they work too well.

My Two CentsAlanE

I disagree. You are comparing physical disabilities with the wearing of a mask. I imagine the parents of these children chose a Catholic school for religious instruction that they wouldn’t get in a public school. A better comparison would be force feeding pork to a Jew or Muslim. Pork has been consumed for hundreds of years and is safe and effective for providing protein in the diet and combatting hunger. There is nothing wrong with eating pork. The fact that certain religious groups have religious objections to its consumption is irrelevant to your argument. Even Muslims in the military are allowed exemptions to the wear of the uniform by donning particular head coverings. Why don’t they put on the head covering when they are out of uniform? Their attire distracts from the uniformity of the military dress code.