Parents File Lawsuit Against DC Mayor for Lifting Mask Mandate for Secular Spaces But Not Religious Schools

Mayor Muriel Bowser of the District of Columbia dropped the city’s mask mandate for indoor public spaces last month, effective March 1. But she didn’t drop the mandate for children in schools, government or private.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sent a letter (PDF) on behalf of parents with children in Roman Catholic schools to D.C.’s health department last month. ADF said the mask lift order “conspicuously—and quite unjustly—leaves children in private schools masked, with no end in sight. This makes no sense, especially in light of the fact that nearby jurisdictions in Virginia and Maryland do not impose mask mandates on private school children. And just last night, Congress—located at the heart of the District—lifted its own mask mandate for its Members and Staff.”

ADF asked the health department to grant private schools an exception to the mandate and threatened to sue if these schools weren’t granted an exception. The parents have decided to sue D.C. ADF filed a lawsuit on behalf of two families his week.

The plaintiffs contend in the complaint (PDF) that D.C.’s mask mandate “is void under the First Amendment, because it is neither generally applicable nor neutral toward the Parents’ religious exercise of providing Catholic formation and education for their children.” The government’s “prolonged mask mandate has had substantially detrimental effects on—and is continuing to significantly impede—the Parents’ children’s Catholic formation and education.”

The plaintiffs noted that children have to wear masks for seven hours a day. This has caused difficulty breathing and other health effects.

“The prolonged mask use has caused difficulty in developing phonic, social, and emotional skills, which are not only critical to schools generally but also are indispensable to the whole point of a Catholic school, learning to communicate and embody God’s love for others.”

ADF Senior Counsel Matt Bowman said that it’s “legally baseless to say that private schools can’t make their own decisions regarding masks while nearly all other private entities can.”

A group of Republican lawmakers, led by Rep. Ralph Norman, also sent a letter to Mayor Bowser asking her why the mandate wasn’t lifted for children in schools.

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