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Justice Department sides with Michigan religious schools' challenge to COVID closures

Religious discrimination "violates everything this country stands for," assistant attorney general says.

Detroit, Michigan
Detroit, Michigan
(Raymond Boyd/Getty)
Updated: December 11, 2020 - 6:25pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The Justice Department on Friday filed a statement of interest in support of religious schools in Michigan that are challenging the state's COVID-related closures of their institutions. 

The department argued that the state's COVID restrictions have exempted "a range of educational activities that the state deems important enough to be held in person notwithstanding the health risks," but that the state "has failed to exempt religious educational activities which the Plaintiffs likewise sincerely believe must be held in person."

"While a local government has significant discretion to decide what measures to adopt to meet a public health threat," the statement of interest reads, "the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution requires that, whatever level of restrictions it adopts, the government may not make value judgments that treat religious reasons for gathering worse than nonreligious reasons for comparable gatherings, absent the government proving that its differential treatment furthers a compelling governmental interest pursued through the least restrictive means."

The suit has been brought by the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools as well as several Catholic high schools and Michigan residents.