Wisconsin Heath Departments Can’t Close Private, Religious Schools amid Pandemic, Court Rules

On Friday, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin ruled in favor of private religious schools by prohibiting local health departments from shutting down in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Fox 6, the court also ruled that Public Health Madison & Dane County infringed on constitutional religious rights.

Justice Rebecca Bradley, who wrote for the 4-3 majority decision, explained that the law granting local health departments their power during a public health crisis “cannot be reasonably read as an open-ended grant of authority.”

The lawsuit was filed after the county’s health department issued an order last August prohibiting in-person education by private and religious schools. In September, the Supreme Court had temporarily put the order on hold while the case was considered.

At the present time, the restrictions are no longer in place because the school year has ended. Nevertheless, the ruling is significant as it limits the powers of the health department from ordering school closures in the future.

The Thomas More Society, a conservative legal group, called the ruling “a major victory to the private schools and parents” of Dane County, The Christian Post reports.

“This has been an overreach of major proportions by a local health official who ignored the fundamental constitutional right to the free exercise of religion for parents, students, and school personnel by ordering these institutions to shut down and prohibiting in-person education,” the group’s Special Counsel Erick Kaardal said in a statement. “It was a slap in the face to educational choice, an affront to families who believe that children should be in school, and a direct violation of parental rights.”

Meanwhile, the legal group’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel Andrew Bath noted that the petition was against “an illegal order by a local public health officer, and the court saw that right away, first issuing a preliminary injunction in September 2020 that prohibited the county from enforcing it, and now settling the matter decisively.”

“They have declared it both statutorily and constitutionally unlawful and have additionally affirmed that local health officers do not have the statutory authority to close schools,” he added.

Photo courtesy: Taylor Wilcox/Unsplash

Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.

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