A federal judge has ruled against parents challenging the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District’s masking requirements, saying he didn’t see evidence that wearing masks violated their religious beliefs.
The opinion issued this week by Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg didn’t dismiss the case against the Chester County district. But it was a rejection of the parents’ call for an immediate injunction blocking the mask mandate, which Tredyffrin/Easttown says it’s carrying out in compliance with the state’s order requiring masks in schools.
Two other cases challenging that order are working their way through Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court — including one filed by a top Republican lawmaker.
Those cases both argue, with different claims, that the order from acting Health Secretary Alison Beam wasn’t permitted under Pennsylvania’s Disease Prevention and Control Law, which Beam cited as her authority for issuing it. The state maintains the law gave it the power to issue the order.
While the Tredyffrin/Easttown parents also argued the state lacked authority, they didn’t show why a federal court should address that claim, Goldberg said in his ruling Monday.
Instead, he focused on the parents’ other claims, including their argument that the order violated their children’s right to practice their religion. The state’s order allows for medical exemptions, but not for religious ones.
The district’s obligation to protect students’ free exercise of religion “cannot be set aside by an order from the Secretary of Health,” Goldberg said. But he said parents hadn’t presented evidence that showed they were likely to succeed on claims of religious discrimination.
Of one Christian mother’s objection to masking, for instance, Goldberg said she “has not demonstrated that she practices keeping her face uncovered the way followers of Catholicism practice communion or those of Jewish faith practice eating unleavened bread on Passover.” And though another mother said she believed the body was a temple and wearing a mask was harmful, “it would be a step too far to count everything she believes about healthy living as a religious practice,” Goldberg said.
The judge also wasn’t persuaded by the parents’ claim that the district couldn’t order masking because masks are “unapproved medical devices,” citing the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. That law bars the sale of adulterated medical devices across state lines but doesn’t mean a school district can’t require masks, Goldberg said.
Gary Samms, a lawyer for the parents, declined to comment.
A lawyer for Tredyffrin/Easttown, Brian Elias, said the district was “pleased” with the decision and “will continue to follow the law, including the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s mask mandate.”