A private Ohio Catholic School filed suit Wednesday against the city of South Euclid over a recent anti-discrimination ordinance that, they allege, discriminates against the school’s religious freedom.
On April 9, 2018, the City Council of the City of South Euclid passed Ordinance No. 12-17, found in South Euclid, Ohio Code of Ordinances, PART FIVE – GENERAL OFFENSES CODE CHAPTER: 552 Discrimination Prohibited. Per the suit, “[t]he Ordinance prohibits discrimination based on religion, creed, marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression (among other things) in employment, housing, and public accommodations.” Presently, Ohio is one of 22 states in which employees lack such protections. South Euclid joined 20 other cities that have passed similar anti-discrimination acts. Unlike the majority of the other cities and states, however, this ordinance is vague on how it addresses religious institutions.
In early drafts of the ordinance, there was specific language that exempted religious organizations from requirements that would mandate actions that conflicted with their faith. This language was removed from the final ordinance that was passed. The language that did discuss religious organizations was “vague” and “unclear” according to the school.
The ordinance also created a “Civil Rights Review Board” that would assess potential violations and would ultimately have the final say. The board would be appointed by the local government and carry considerable powers. Any individual may bring any complaint against any institution or organization located in the city. If the board finds a civil rights offense was committed they may “issue a cease-and-desist order, recommend court proceedings, recommend license revocation, or order payment of civil penalties, damages, attorneys’ fees, or costs.”
Located in South Euclid is the Lyceum: a small, Catholic college preparatory school that focuses on “classical Catholic education.” There are 53 students in its current school year. Concerned about how this would affect their ability to function as a faith-based institution, according to the filing, they raised several questions and complaints that received vague answers. Specifically concerning was how the ordinance addressed the issue of sex and gender:
The Ordinance defines “gender” as “actual or perceived sex.” Id. § 552.01(i).78. The Ordinance defines “gender identity or expression” as “having or being perceived as having a gender identity or expression whether or not that gender identity or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the sex assigned to that individual at birth.” Id. § 552.01(j). 79. The Ordinance defines sexual orientation as “actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality.” Id. § 552.01(o)
After the ordinance was passed without explicitly addressing these concerns, the school filed suit. The school is currently represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, “a non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.” In a press release, ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb (pictured above) said of the case:
Religious schools like The Lyceum must be free to operate consistently with their faith without fear of unjust government punishment—that is their right under the First Amendment…But the city’s ordinance threatens this small school with criminal penalties simply for selecting faculty and students who share its religious convictions. The Lyceum’s parents, students, and faculty have agreed to live by community standards rooted in Catholic teaching. The city’s hostile regulation not only threatens the school, it also undermines the rights of parents and students who deliberately seek out this unique, faith-based education.
The firm also produced a short video explaining their case:
The lawsuit, The Lyceum v. The City of South Euclid has been filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division. The city is accused of violating “the First Amendment, the 14th Amendment, and the Ohio Constitution.” Matthew Nee is lead counsel.
A date has yet to be determined for the case.
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Andrew Shirley is a reporter at Battleground State News and The Ohio Star. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.