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Justice Department backs private schools in virus challenge

December 12, 2020 GMT

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department said Friday it’s on the side of Michigan faith-based schools that are challenging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ban on in-person classes in high schools.

The department’s Civil Rights Division filed an argument in favor of three Catholic high schools and the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools. A federal judge in Kalamazoo will hear arguments Monday.

Schools and families have a constitutional right to practice their religion through in-person instruction, the government said, citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court order that barred New York from enforcing certain restrictions on religious services in areas hit hard by the coronavirus.

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“The state has failed to make any provision for consideration of the religious need of plaintiffs for in-person religious education which they sincerely believe cannot be done remotely,” the Justice Department said.

A three-week ban on in-person classes at high schools and colleges was extended this week through Dec. 20. Indoor restaurant dining is also prohibited, along with high school sports, group fitness classes and trips to theaters and casinos.

The health department said the restrictions were necessary to control the spread of COVID-19, especially after Thanksgiving gatherings. The state reported 5,100 newly confirmed cases Friday and 61 deaths.