Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2021 / 17:10 pm
The Wisconsin state supreme court ruled in favor of a Catholic school last week in its case against a local prohibition on in-person learning during the pandemic.
“It’s a big win and people should be rejoicing nationally because of the use of the state constitution to provide additional protection to the religious education of children,” one of the appellate attorneys in the case, Erick Kaardal, told CNA.
The case of St. Ambrose Academy against executives of Dane County, Wisconsin, was officially decided on June 11.
Citing dangers of the pandemic, county public health official Janel Heinrich issued an emergency order last August which prohibited in-person learning at all county schools grades 3 to 12.
St. Ambrose Academy announced last August that it and other Catholic schools were seeking the immediate revocation of the emergency order, “citing harm to ‘parents, children, and schools across the County.’” They cited “freedom of conscience” clauses in the state constitution to make their case.
St. Ambrose said it had worked with county health officials to produce a 35-page plan to reopen safely that fall, before the order was issued.
The court initially issued a preliminary injunction in September 2020, temporarily stopping the county from enforcing the order. The court’s official ruling was delivered on Friday, in a 5-3 decision in favor of the schools.
In the majority opinion,Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley ruled that “local health officers do not have the statutory power to close schools,” and said that the prohibition on in-person education “infringes the Petitioners’ fundamental right to the free exercise of religion.”
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