Religious school, parents argue mask warrants violate rights


LANSING – A religious school and two parents are calling on a federal judge to stop the application of mask warrants both statewide and in Ingham County.

Resurrection School, Christopher Mianecki and Stephanie Smith claim in the complaint filed Thursday that orders requiring Michigan students to wear masks in class require that the school and families “violate their sincere religious beliefs or be subject to criminal prosecution.”

They are also seeking a preliminary injunction to immediately suspend enforcement of the orders while the case progresses.

A sign posted near playground equipment reminds people to wear masks behind Pinecrest Elementary School pictured Wednesday, September 30, 2020 in East Lansing.

The lawsuit, filed by the Great Lakes Justice Center and the American Freedom Law Center, claims the orders of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director Robert Gordon and Linda Vail, county health official of ‘Ingham, violate several amendments to the US Constitution and state law.

Families’ religious beliefs and the school’s use of religion play an important role in the lawsuit, which names Gordon, Vail, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Ingham County Attorney General Carol Siemon.

“In accordance with the teachings of the Catholic faith, the Resurrection school believes that every human being has dignity and is made in the image and likeness of God,” the legal complaint reads. “Unfortunately, a mask protects our humanity. And because God created us in his image, we hide this image.

The political beliefs of the Mianecki and Smith families also come into play.

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The lawsuit says that for “many people”, including the parents of both families, an excessive mask warrant is “a symbol of oppression and an attempt by the government to control citizens.” The complaint describes Gordon and Vail’s orders as surprisingly broad.

Although the health department declined to comment on an active lawsuit, Vail, Gordon and other health officials and experts have repeatedly stressed the importance of wearing masks as a tool to help control the spread. of COVID-19.

Lawsuit: Mask Warrants Limit “Rewarding Education”, “Healthy Spiritual Life”

The Resurrection School, located on East Michigan Avenue near downtown Lansing, is an elementary school with kindergarten to grade five students.

Under orders from Gordon and Vail issued earlier this month, elementary school children are required to wear masks throughout the school day. The orders followed a Michigan Supreme Court ruling that struck down Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency declarations after April 30.

The lawsuit disputes that these mandates make no exceptions when children are “safely distanced from each other” and claims that they have an impact on students’ ability to learn and “fully engage. in religious education ”.

The school and parents are ready to take and have taken “responsible steps to ensure health and safety,” the lawsuit said. The complaint details a “strict protocol” at the school that includes personal hygiene, screening, social distancing, disinfection, planning of movement in the hallways so that classes do not interact in common areas and the classroom. placing students in pods so that they only interact with three other students, UV-C lights and air filtration.

The mask’s mandates go beyond and limit “normalization, friendship, a fulfilling education and a healthy spiritual life,” according to the legal complaint.

“Methods which strive to promote safety but have a deleterious effect on a child’s social and emotional development do not promote the health and well-being of the child as a whole as they strive to do. Catholic social education, ”says the lawsuit.

Children from both families find it difficult to wear masks

Mianecki and Smith specifically send their children to Resurrection School because they want them to receive a Catholic education, according to the lawsuit.

Yet at present, the lawsuit claims, their children are not receiving the fullest education possible because of the mask warrants.

Smith has taken his son, a fourth-grader, from face-to-face classes because he can’t stand wearing a mask.

Her son has severe breathing problems, but a pediatrician said he did not meet the requirements for a medical exemption, according to the complaint. This is problematic because he cannot wear a mask for more than 30 minutes without having difficulty breathing and being distracted, the complaint says.

Smith’s son wants to go back to class but can’t because he ends up removing his mask after about 30 minutes. This means that the Smiths “are currently paying for a religious education for his son which he cannot receive because he has to be educated at home where he is not required to wear a mask,” the complaint states.

Mianecki has Kindergarten, Grade 3, and Grade 5 at Resurrection School. He didn’t take them out of class, but the three of them have a harder time paying attention to mass and class than usual because of the masks, the lawsuit says.

All three children also have allergies, and Mianecki has noticed that their masks often feel “wet from the saliva and the allergy-related sneezing or cough.”

Mianecki’s youngest in Resurrection is shy and quiet around people she doesn’t know, the complaint says, adding that wearing a mask only makes things worse.

“Wearing a face covering hampers his ability to be heard, to socialize, to engage in religious fellowship, and this hampers his ability to acclimate to a new environment and to new people,” reads. one in the trial.

She also has difficulty speaking, and a mask makes the situation worse and “prevents her teacher from seeing her mouth to determine if her mouth is in the right position to say letters and sounds correctly.”

Mianecki’s third-year son has clinically recognized speech problems.

With a mask, it is difficult to understand it, “sometimes even for people who know it well,” says the trial.

In general, wearing a mask negatively impacts all four children, according to the lawsuit, and the mask requires “isolating children who cannot tolerate masks, rendering them unable to participate in religious education. “.

The argument focuses heavily on religious exercise, freedom of expression

Mask warrants across state and in Ingham County violate families’ rights to freedom of religious exercise, freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process and equal protection, says the lawsuit.

He also claims they violate state law due to a lack of authority under the Michigan Public Health Code and separation of powers laws.

Most of the arguments focus on issues of religion and freedom of expression.

Warrants that require people like the Mianecki and Smith families to wear masks make them “convey a message that they do not agree with even when they are socially estranged in private homes or non-public schools,” says the trial.

By wearing masks, families “are contributing to a false public statement that all people are in fact sick” and are effectively declaring that they have ceded their “freedom to the government, especially in light of the facts of this current declared pandemic. “, Pleads for justice.

The mask warrants also violate interests of privacy, the complaint says, in particular “bodily integrity and personal autonomy.”

“The mask’s mandate obliges every Michigander, including complainants, to become the patient of the government without the consent of the citizen,” the complaint states.

The school and families are asking a federal judge to say that the warrants violate constitutional rights and cannot be enforced and award damages.

Contact reporter Megan Banta at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ MeganBanta_1.



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