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Published On: Wed, May 29th, 2019

Ohio: Catholic school, The Lyceum exempted from city ordinance forcing social justice practices

After months of refusing to say whether an ordinance would force a Catholic classical school to operate contrary to its religious beliefs in employment, admissions, and other policies, the city of South Euclid, faced with a lawsuit, has finally stated that it won’t apply the law to the school.

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Although the school made multiple attempts to obtain clarification, the city refused to clarify its vague law. It twice illegally refused to answer the school’s public records request. And when the school directly asked the city whether its ordinance applies to The Lyceum, the city refused to say and suggested the school hire legal counsel and figure it out. Left with no other option, the school’s leaders proceeded to federal court, reasonably fearing that operating their school consistently with their faith would directly violate city law and put them at risk of an up to $500 fine, restitution, or up to 60 days in jail per occurrence. Because the city has finally agreed that the school isn’t subject to the law, ADF attorneys voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit against the city Tuesday.

“Religious schools like The Lyceum have the freedom to operate consistently with their faith without fear of unjust government punishment—and we’re glad South Euclid now affirms this reality,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “No one should have to file a federal lawsuit simply to find out whether they are violating a vague law with criminal penalties. We’re disappointed that the city didn’t do the right thing right from the start, but we’re pleased that it now acknowledges that The Lyceum’s parents, students, and faculty have the freedom to seek out this unique, faith-based education and maintain community standards rooted in Catholic teaching.”

The Lyceum provides its students with a faith-integrated, classical education and seeks to form “lifelong learners in a joyful pursuit of the Truth, who is Christ.” As a faith community, the school seeks to abide by and convey the teachings of the Bible and the doctrine of the Catholic Church, including their teachings on marriage and sexuality. But in 2018, the South Euclid City Council passed a vague, sweeping ordinance that appeared to force the school to hire teachers or enroll students who disagree with its mission and teachings.

Initial drafts of the South Euclid ordinance contained an explicit provision that allowed religious organizations to act consistently with their mission and teachings, but the city council removed those protections from the final text. The ordinance is also vague, which made it impossible for The Lyceum’s administrators to know whether the school’s policies were in violation of the law.

“The Lyceum has accomplished through litigation what it could not convince the city to produce in response to its letter: an answer,” said Holcomb. “We’re hopeful that other cities avoid such an unforced error and remain mindful that the First Amendment protects religious schools from government hostility, targeting, and discrimination.”

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