Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., has banned religious gatherings of any size as a part of his state’s response to the coronavirus. On March 23, Gov. Inslee issued Proclamation 20-25 which prohibits spiritual meetings, even those with less than 10 people, during the outbreak.
Joshua Freed has hosted Bible studies in his home along with his wife for over two years. Despite Gov. Inslee’s order, he wants to be able to host one-on-one Bible studies outside, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) while abiding by social distancing guidelines in order to minister to people during the crisis. Freed is also running for Washington Governor as a Republican candidate.
First Liberty Institute has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Freed with the hope that a court will restore his right to host Bible studies. First Liberty is seeking a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against Gov. Inslee in the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington on April 29, 2020.
“Criminalizing all religious gatherings outside of family members is an outrageous overreach that stifles religious liberty and violates the First Amendment,” Hiram Sasser, Executive General Counsel at First Liberty, said in a statement explaining the lawsuit. “The Constitution forbids the government from singling out religious Americans for restrictions that are not imposed on other entities.”
In the lawsuit, First Liberty is working together with Mark Lamb, owner and founder of The North Creek Law Firm. “Prohibiting two people from meeting together to pray and read Scripture while they follow all social distancing guidelines unconstitutionally targets religious activity,” Lamb said in a statement.
First Liberty and Lamb write in the TRO, “Gov. Inslee’s targeting of religious adherents from gathering in a manner consistent with governmental social distancing guidelines, while permitting similar (and at times even more intimate) social interaction to continue unabated in some retail and commercial establishments, flies in the face of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
Despite banning religious gatherings of any size, according to First Liberty, Gov. Inslee has exempted other “essential” public gathering places from his closure order. These include, “many retail, grocery, media and even cannabis establishments.”
The Washington state attorney general’s office has indicated that it will respond to the lawsuit and defend Gov. Inslee’s order.
“They’re going to fight it,” Sasser told The Washington Times. “So you can golf, you can fish, you can go to Wal-Mart, but you can’t stand 6 feet away from someone on your front yard and talk about the Bible. This is crazy.”
United States Attorney General William Barr has recently asked all U.S. Attorneys to look out for overreaches by state governments that go to far in infringing upon the rights of citizens, as The Daily Citizen reported on April 28.
Barr wrote to the federal attorneys, “Even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers.”
The case is Joshua Freed vs. Jay Inslee.
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