Christian school must comply with Jeffco’s mask mandate, judge rules

A judge issued a temporary injunction Thursday requiring Faith Christian Academy to comply with Jefferson County’s mask mandate for students and ordering the school to allow inspection by county public health officials.

District Judge Randall Arp ruled that the county’s mask mandate didn’t violate the constitutional right to freedom of religion, and that Gov. Jared Polis allowing the state declaration of emergency to expire does not mean that local public health agencies can’t impose orders on their own.

“The court will note that the health order was not faith-based or designated at religious practice,” he said. “It was designated to apply to schools, which then also include religious or church schools.”

The temporary injunction, which had been sought by Jefferson County Public Health, will remain in place until the end of the school year or May 31 at the latest, unless another resolution is reached before then.

The ruling follows a three-day hearing that began Tuesday, the courtroom overflowing with school supporters.

The health department sought the judge’s order last week to compel three private Christian schools to both follow the county’s mask mandate and to allow immediate access to health inspectors to conduct compliance checks in their facilities.

All three schools objected, saying both that they were following the mask mandate and that it was unconstitutional, among other arguments.

Attorneys for the schools argued that Jefferson County Public Health’s mask mandate was issued on the eve of the school year’s start and was then amended, creating confusion about what actions the schools should take. They also suggested the health department’s executive director had exceeded her authority.

On Wednesday, Beth Eden Baptist School and Augustine Classical Academy both settled their cases with the county. The health department voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit against those two schools after they agreed to allow health inspectors unimpeded access to their facilities.

Thursday’s ruling applies only to the sole remaining defendant, Faith Christian Academy.

Golden View Classical Academy, a public charter school, was allowed to join the case as an intervenor in order to raise additional legal arguments against the health department after its attorneys successfully argued the judge’s decision in the case could also impact Golden View.

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