WILL Warns Mequon-Thiensville School District That Conditions on Religious Exemption Are Unlawful

Published on: Aug 19, 2021

District will only grant religious exemptions to its new mask rule with endorsement of religious leader

The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) issued a letter to the Mequon-Thiensville School District (MTSD) warning that any request for an accommodation of religious beliefs, protected by the state and federal constitutions, does not need the endorsement of a religious official or institution. MTSD’s form for a religious exemption from its district-wide mask rule requires a signature from a religious leader or institution. This is unlawful. Rights to religious liberty are valid whether they are endorsed by a religious institution, or not.

The Quote: WILL Deputy Counsel, Dan Lennington, said, “The freedom of religion doesn’t require a permission slip from your priest, pastor, rabbi, or imam. While we are glad to see the district comply with basic principles of non-discrimination, it is frankly shocking to see district officials place such a clearly illegal burden on parents wishing to exercise basic constitutional rights.”

Background: On Monday night, the MTSD school board finalized a district-wide mask policy for the upcoming school year. The rule requires face coverings when certain transmission levels are present. While MTSD does allow for religious exemptions from the mask mandate, they must be accompanied by the signature of a religious leader or religious institution. This is unlawful.

WILL issued a letter to MTSD, on behalf of an MTSD parent, that reads, in part:

“A governmental entity, like MTSD, that accommodates only those religious beliefs approved by a ‘religious institution’ or ‘religious leader’ (however those may be defined) violates anti-discrimination laws as well as both the federal and state constitutions.

“Persons seeking a religious accommodation may provide this information if they wish. But to require the endorsement of a religious leader or institution as a condition of an accommodation or as a perquisite to a request is unlawful.”

WILL’s letter requests MTSD to make clear that they will accept religious exemption forms without the signature of a religious leader or institution.

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