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A new lawsuit challenges Ohio’s school mask mandate. (Photo: Meg Vogel/ The Enquirer)

More than two dozen parents have sued Ohio’s health director over the state’s mask mandate for children in schools.

A complaint, filed last week in Putnam County Common Pleas Court, argues a state-imposed mask requirement infringes on parents’ religious beliefs and ability to rear their children as they wish. Attorneys for the parents, which include a Cincinnati-area mom, also say mask mandates have become a political issue, and forcing children to wear masks is forcing them to make a political statement.

“Plaintiffs dissent from this view, yet are being compelled to participate, and have their children participate in the state’s symbolic endorsement of panic over process,” the complaint reads.

Ohio Department of Health Interim Director Lance Himes signed an order requiring face coverings in educational settings serving children in kindergarten through 12th grade on Aug. 13. The order contained several exemptions, including one for students with a disability, mental health condition or medical condition. Another exemption allows students to forgo face coverings if they conflict with “an established sincerely held religious requirement.”

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One of the parents, Jennifer Miller of Leipsic in Putnam County, attempted to use that exemption but was denied. The district said Miller’s objection was not based on an “established” requirement, according to the complaint.

Lee Strang, a plaintiff and constitutional law professor at the University of Toledo, said that’s not the standard.

“We have the school board acting like a church court – your (belief) is OK and yours isn’t good enough,” Strang told The Enquirer.

Strang decided to join the lawsuit because he thinks his son, a first-grader, and other children will be harmed by wearing masks all day. Strang said young children won’t be able to keep masks clean and he’s concerned about emotional and psychological effects of wearing masks all day. For example, phonics are typically taught by modeling the teacher making sounds.

Attorneys also argue a mask mandate violates students’ privacy – the order “erodes or destroys” their personality, identity and public projection of self and conceals their identities to others.

The lawsuit is the latest challenge to Gov. Mike DeWine’s efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The state health department and DeWine were sued over rules for restaurants, amusement parks, gyms, arcade games and concerts.

A Warren County judge allowed several sports events to move forward in early August, despite a state order banning competitions between two teams. In several cases, the judge ruled against the state just before the businesses were allowed to reopen. Others are still pending. 

The lawsuits generally challenge the director’s authority to issue orders to prevent the spread of contagious or infectious diseases, granted under a century-old law. They also allege the orders have violated various constitutional rights.

Another mask mandate lawsuit was filed last month by two parents in Muskingum County. The school district and local health commissioner have asked the court to dismiss the case.

Read the complaint below.

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