Religious schools sue Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom over school closure order

California Gov. Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom | Facebook/Gavin Newsom

A group of private religious schools representing different faith traditions have filed a lawsuit against California Gov. Gavin Newsom over a recent school closure order.

The suit was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California and requests injunctive relief from the state order on schools.

Listed plaintiffs include three Los Angeles-based Jewish schools, Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn Toras Emes Academy, Samuel A. Fryer Yavneh Academy, and Gindi Maimonides Academy; two Christian schools, Montebello Christian School of Montebello and Saint Joseph Academy of San Marcos; and a group of parents.

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A copy of the lawsuit was emailed to The Christian Post by Becket, a religious liberty law firm that as of Monday is not actively participating in the litigation.

At issue in the lawsuit is a state order that closes both public and private schools in California as part of the state's continued lockdown in response to the novel coronavirus.

“Plaintiffs bring this particular suit to advance their rights as religious schools, parents, students, and educators to choose — again, consistent with sound science, data, and their own individual circumstances — to hold in-person religious education in a manner consistent with their faith,” the suit states in part.

“Our laws are clear that government shall make no law abridging the free exercise of religion. Laws that treat religious institutions, including schools, unequally must be narrowly tailored to minimize the burden they place on a fundamental right. Parents have the right to direct the education of their children in the religious setting of their choice.”

The plaintiffs also take issue with how, while religious schools are closed, California still allows “similarly situated entities, such as camps and childcare facilities, to conduct in-person operations.”

“Tens of thousands of childcare facilities are open for business in the same jurisdictions where religious schools are prevented from opening,” continued the lawsuit.

“Defendants made no effort to discern whether a more tailored, individualized approach to school opening would achieve the same public health outcome while being more protective of fundamental religious liberties.”

Sebastian Petz, superintendent of Montebello Christian, told ABC News' Los Angeles affiliate that allowing his school to open was vital to the community. 

“Public schools will always be around. They have state funding,” said Petz. “We do not, so if we don't open our doors, there's a good chance that we may never be able to serve our low-income, poor, minority families going forward for the rest of our existence.”

As states and school boards debate how to hold classes amid the pandemic, some private schools have argued that they should be exempted from orders shutting down public schools.

Earlier this month, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued an emergency order clarifying that private schools were exempt from shutdown orders for public schools.

His order came in response to an attempt by Montgomery County officials to prohibit in-person classes for both public and private schools until at least Oct. 1.

“Over the last several weeks, school boards and superintendents made their own decisions about how and when to reopen public schools, after consultation with state and local health officials,” Hogan said in a statement last month. “Private and parochial schools deserve the same opportunity and flexibility to make reopening decisions based on public health guidelines.”  

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