The Freedom From Religion Foundation is blasting the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s irresponsible action halting COVID-19-related school closure orders in its home county.
The injunction was issued late yesterday in favor of a petition by a number of religious schools and parents challenging emergency safety orders temporarily prohibiting in-person classes in Dane County for students in grades three through 12.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor warns that “chaos will reign and the coronavirus will spread” as a result. Once again, she notes, we see the role religion is playing in drowning out science and evidence-based recommendations to fight the pandemic.
Making the challenges even more reprehensible is the fact that a number of church schools suing against the public health orders have received vast infusions of public tax dollars under the guise of various voucher schemes.
“Where public money goes, public accountability must follow,” Gaylor adds. "Yet a number of these religiously segregated schools, while demanding public support, believe they are above the law.”
The ruling came the same day local officials announced a record-breaking 456 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, and the day after the University of Wisconsin-Madison shut down in-person classes for two weeks following a huge spike in cases.
The state high court action was in response to three different lawsuits brought against Public Health Madison & Dane County. A number of religious schools and parents of children had asked the archconservative court to block Dane County’s emergency health order, complaining it violates their religious freedom. The arguments are similar to those raised against Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home orders. The high court struck Evers’ statewide order, leaving health rules to local officials.
The three suits are brought by:
• Sara Lindsey James, a Fitchburg mother who sends her children to a Lutheran school in Madison and filed the first petition.
• The Wisconsin Council of Religious & Independent Schools, School Choice Wisconsin Action and several Christian schools and parents, who filed suit on Aug. 26. They are represented by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.
• Eight Catholic schools, including St. Ambrose Academy, with parent plaintiffs, who filed a third petition on Aug. 28. They are represented by a former state solicitor general under previous Gov. Scott Walker’s administration.
Public Health Madison & Dane County contends the school closure orders will prevent irreparable social harm. Its briefs noted that the regulations do not stop learning and that religious studies are not prohibited.
In a statement, the high court majority said it believes the religious petitioners will win because it claims only the state Department of Health Services has the power to close schools during epidemics. In dissent were Justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Jill J. Karofsky and Rebecca Frank Dallet. Dallet writes, “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, certain members of this court have repeated the mantra of local control: that we should take care not to ‘usurp’ local officials’ ability to control the spread of COVID-19 due to the virus’ unique impact on each locality. But today, those same justices interfere with a local health officer’s ability to make difficult, health-based decisions pursuant to her statutory authority.” Dallet calls the injunction a “misguided exercise of our authority.”
Below are the ungrateful, religiously segregated schools receiving taxpayer voucher money that are suing over the Dane County temporary school closures:
ABUNDANT LIFE CHRISTIAN SCHOOL
2019-20 voucher money received — $131,320
HIGH POINT CHRISTIAN SCHOOL
2019-20 voucher money received — $634,762
LIGHTHOUSE CHRISTIAN SCHOOL
2019-20 voucher money received — $1,157,757
WESTSIDE CHRISTIAN SCHOOL
2019-20 voucher money received — $362,070
Ironically, the state Supreme Court, while prepared to prematurely expose children, teachers and parents to the pandemic, is, of course, itself working remotely.