U.S. Churches Continue to Sue State and Local Government for Overreach in COVID-19 Restrictions against Houses of Worship
TUPELO, Miss. — Prominent evangelical pastor and author John MacArthur has continued to hold services in person with hundreds of his congregants at Grace Community Church, in what he has called a “peaceful protest” against government actions litigators have described to the California Superior Court as Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “unconstitutional and onerous coronavirus pandemic regulations.”
The American Family Association (AFA, www.afa.net) supports legal action that protects churches and individuals from overextended pandemic restrictions by state and local government leaders.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that, during the pandemic, some governors and mayors are usurping too much power and doing so indefinitely, then applying their draconian measures in ways that infringe on First Amendment rights,” said AFA Executive Vice President Ed Vitagliano.
Officials in various states have mandated that churches restrict gathering sizes to numbers well below building capacity and require the wearing of masks. Such states have seen an uptick in lawsuits from legal firms representing houses of worship, including the Thomas More Society, which represents MacArthur’s church and others throughout the U.S.
The mandates, which fail to be applied with the same vigor to other social gatherings like protests against police brutality, defy state laws properly enacted by the citizens’ representatives — and therefore qualify as tyranny, Vitagliano says.
“AFA calls on city councils and legislatures to do their jobs and rein in these autocrats,” Vitagliano said. “At the same time, churches with leadership that decide to open their doors as safely as possible should be bold enough to do so without fear of threats and retaliation. This isn’t Communist China.”
In Minnesota, a lawsuit was filed against Governor Tim Walz for an executive order forcing churches to maintain mask-wearing and six-foot separation between persons. Other executive branch mandates, such as in Illinois and Ohio, provide for limited exceptions for houses of worship.
The Associated Press reported Erick Kaardal, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, as saying, “Gov. Walz, a former teacher, gets an F in religious liberties.”
In some states, litigation has led to small victories. A judge in New York blocked restrictions of 25% for indoor worship gatherings while other gatherings could operate at 50%.
Meanwhile, a growing coalition of pastors in Pennsylvania recently sent an open letter to all three branches of the state’s government arguing that Gov. Tom Wolf’s unilateral COVID-19 mandates are unlawful, that members of the state’s high court unlawfully upheld them, and that the legislative branch should hold the other branches accountable.
For over 40 years, AFA has operated within the mission to inform, equip, and activate individuals to strengthen the moral foundations of American culture and give aid to the church here and abroad in its task of fulfilling the Great Commission. Visit AFA Action Alerts here.
To interview a representative from the American Family Association, contact Media@HamiltonStrategies.com, Jeff Tolson, 610.584.1096, ext. 108, or ext. 102.