Churches in California and Minnesota, backed by a conservative legal group, filed lawsuits this week against the governors of their states challenging restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak that they contend are violations of religious liberty.
They’re the latest in a long series of legal challenges, many of them in California, pitting clerics and houses of worship who believe they should be exempt from certain restrictions on public gatherings against governors who insist the measures are needed to rein in the pandemic. Most of the suits have been rebuffed; some have succeeded.
In Minnesota, a lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court challenging Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders requiring 6-foot social distancing and the wearing of face masks at worship services.
“Gov. Walz, a former teacher, gets an F in religious liberties,” said Erick Kaardal, special counsel for the Thomas More Society. “Other states, including Texas, Illinois and Ohio, have excluded churches from COVID-19 mask mandates.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison reiterated his defense of Walz’s order, saying it was legally and constitutionally sound.
Teddy Tschann, spokesperson for Walz, said the governor was within his authority taking the action and added that all Walz's actions have been grounded in the desire to keep Minnesotans safe.
Walz had been embroiled in a battle with Roman Catholic and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregations across Minnesota over restrictions he placed on gatherings of more than 10 people. He relented and said they could hold services at 25% of capacity if certain conditions were met after they made it clear they planned to defy the order.
Earlier this month a pastor in Palmetto, Florida, filed a suit challenging Manatee County’s mask mandate. The Rev. Joel Tillis of Suncoast Baptist Church said the order shouldn’t extend to houses of worship because it hinders prayer.