Christian Schools face government lawsuits over mandate noncompliance, voters join pushback

Several Christian schools across the country have found themselves facing legal action as they fight back against government mandates that schools and parents find overreaching.

Earlier this fall, three schools in Jefferson County, Colorado were sued by their local health department for not requiring masks, which was in conflict with the Jefferson County Public Health order requiring masks in schools and childcare facilities. The suit, filed on Sept. 15, accused Beth Eden Baptist School, Augustine Classical Academy and Faith Christian Academy of violating the health order. 

A week later, the health department settled its suits with Beth Eden Baptist and Augustine Classical after those schools agreed to let the department perform unannounced visits (the lawsuit accused both schools of refusing inspectors). A judge issued a ruling forcing Faith Christian to comply with the mandate.

In Illinois, a state with one of the strictest shutdown policies and mandates in the country, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) revoked state recognition of Parkview Christian Academy in Yorkville when Parkview decided not to enforce a mask mandate. Parkview sued the ISBE in September, alleging that the state group’s immediate pulling of “recognized school” status was unfair to Parkview as it did not offer the same due process allowed to public schools when a breach in procedures is alleged.

The school is now on probation and required to submit a “corrective plan” within 60 days.

In Pennsylvania, several lawsuits have been filed on the issue of masking orders. Pennsylvania judges are considering two suits, including one brought by Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman and other parents, challenging the legality of Pennsylvania’s mandate.

On the heels of Christian and religious schools being targeted for noncompliance with mask mandates, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced on November 4 a new emergency temporary standard mandating vaccines for workers in companies with 100 or more employees.

Under this standard, effective January 4, 2022, employers must enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, unless they require employees to either be vaccinated or undergo regular COVID testing and wear a face covering at work.

While it isn’t clear yet how many Christian schools will fall under the order, the move has already brought a flurry of challenges from all sectors, including Christian schools. 

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Asbury Theological Seminary were among the first major Christian institutions to legally challenge the OSHA vaccine requirements.

The two Kentucky schools, representing the largest seminaries in the Southern Baptist and Methodist denominations, filed a petition against the OSHA standard last week.

And in Florida, the Christian advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom announced it will join the state of Florida in suing over the OSHA vaccine requirement. ADF lawyers will represent Cambridge Christian School in Tampa and The King’s Academy in West Palm Beach in the lawsuit.

The Florida suit argues President Joe Biden’s administration has no legal authority to issue an employer mandate and cannot “coerce” people to undergo medical treatment. While announcing the lawsuit Thursday, both Governor Ron DeSantis and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said they consider the rules an infringement on people’s personal freedoms 

“This is not anti-vaccine,” said Moody. “This is pro-freedom.”

Voters push back against government overreach

Relatedly, in last week’s elections, several states saw victories by candidates who ran on campaigns critical of government mandates and what many parents saw as government overreach. 

The most widely watched victory came in Virginia for newly elected governor Glenn Youngkin. Youngkin beat incumbent Terry McAuliffe, after a series of comments by Governor McAuliffe that included him declaring, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” and campaigning with the head of the state teachers’ union, who lobbied to keep schools closed.

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy barely survived a close race with Republican Jack Ciattarelli, who won suburban counties with a message of parental control and choice in education issues. Ciattarelli’s strong showing was viewed by many in New Jersey as a direct rebuke to the message that parents don’t have a voice in education. 

Other states are taking notice, in anticipation of 2022 state races. Freedom in education promises to feature prominently in national politics in the months ahead.