Three churches are suing the governor and his constituents for executive orders that violate their religious liberties. Defendants in the case are Governor Tim Walz, State Attorney General Keith Ellison, and county attorneys Chad Larson, Tom Kelly, and Donald Ryan. The Thomas More Society filed on behalf of the churches.
The lawsuit cites Article I, Section 16 of Minnesota’s Constitution as state precedent protecting the right to worship: “the right of every man to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience shall never be infringed.” The lawsuit also cites Christian adherence to the Bible’s commandment for believers to worship together.
The Thomas More Society Special Council Erick Kardaal affirmed this reasoning, adding that multiple religions “are bound by their faith to worship together.”
“Time-honored rights and rituals, including prayers, singing, communion, and a laying of hands in blessing, are among those elements that comprise the free exercise of religion, for which the First Amendment disallows the prohibition thereof. That is the central tenet of the complaint.”
The suit argues that the executive orders are unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Executive Orders 20-74 and 20-81 are referred to as “legal requirements imposed upon [the church] interfering with their religious practices.”
Governor Walz established Executive Order 20-74 on June 5th. The order banned worship gatherings over fifty percent capacity, limited indoor and outdoor worship services to 250 people, and mandated six feet social distancing.
Penalties for breaking any part of Order 20-74 was costly. Individuals were subject to a $1,000 fine or 90 days in prison, while business owners and management faced $3,000 or a year’s time. For every violation of the order, businesses faced civil relief fines up to $25,000.
Less than two months later, Governor Walz mandated face coverings in Executive Order 20-81. Individuals could incur up to $100 fine, while businesses could face up to $1,000 fine or a 90 day imprisonment.
“Other states, including Texas, Illinois, and Ohio have excluded churches from COVID-19 mask mandates,” said Kaardal. “Unlike Walz, those states have recognized that you cannot criminalize religious attendance at houses of worship for any reason.”
Last week, the Thomas More Society successfully defended a California-based church from county attorneys seeking to shut its indoor services down.
Spokespersons for Governor Walz say that his orders affecting the church are within his authority.
While Governor Walz has been outspoken against large gatherings throughout the pandemic, he has yet to address the violations that occurred during George Floyd protests.
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