Three congregations in Minnesota have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Tim Walz over a recently issued order mandating the wearing of face masks and another order limiting worship attendance.
Cornerstone Church of Alexandria, Land of Promise Church of Buffalo, and Lifespring Church of Crosby filed suit on Thursday.
The churches’ lawsuit names Walz, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, and a few other local government officials as defendants.
At issue are Executive Order 20-81 and statutes which mandate the wearing of facemasks for indoor spaces and does not offer an exemption for worship.
“Wearing a mask makes singing, verbally praying and receiving communion at church more difficult and, at times, impossible,” the suit argues.
The suit warns that the facemask mandate is a threat to religious freedom and “chilling the plaintiffs’ and others’ constitutionally protected church attendance and religious activities, even if nobody is ever prosecuted for violating the executive orders.”
The churches are also concerned about Executive Order 20-74, which limits indoor church attendance to 50% capacity and outdoor worship attendance to 250 people or fewer.
“The plaintiffs’ church attendance is threatened by prosecutions under Executive Order 20-74 for violating the limitations on indoor and outdoor religious gatherings and the six-feet social distancing requirement,” the suit adds.
“Minnesota criminalizing conduct of church attendees suppresses plaintiffs’ ability to worship and practice their religion in houses of worship and restricts the ability of the plaintiffs to associate with other members of the faith.”
Erick Kaardal, special counsel with the Thomas More Society, which is representing the churches, said in a statement that the governor “gets an F in religious liberties.”
“Other states, including Texas, Illinois, and Ohio have excluded churches from COVID-19 mask mandates,” he said.
“Unlike Walz, those states have recognized that you cannot criminalize religious attendance at houses of worship for any reason. Governor Walz wants to prosecute Minnesotans for religious attendance. We are going to do our best not to see that happen.”
For his part, the attorney general said in a statement that he and his staff “review every executive order for its compliance with the law and state and federal constitutions.”
“I stand behind the legality and constitutionality of this executive order. We will defend it strongly in court just as we have so far successfully defended others in court,” stated Ellison added, according to the Star Tribune.
In June, the World Health Organization released a Q&A on COVID-19 and facemasks, warning that “the use of a mask alone is not sufficient to provide an adequate level of protection against COVID-19.”
“You should also maintain a minimum physical distance of at least 1 metre from others, frequently clean your hands and avoid touching your face and mask,” explained WHO.
“Non-medical, fabric masks are being used by many people in public areas, but there has been limited evidence on their effectiveness and WHO does not recommend their widespread use among the public for control of COVID-19.”
Earlier this month, Pew Research Center released a report which found that 79% of surveyed respondents opposed giving houses of worship exemptions from COVID-19 lockdown orders.
Respondents who identified as evangelical Protestant were more likely to support giving houses of worship more flexibility, nevertheless 62% of them also opposed exemptions.
The survey also found that evangelical Protestants were less likely to believe that their churches should remain closed during the pandemic compared to other religious groups.
Eighteen percent of evangelical respondents said their churches should be closed, versus 27% of Catholics, 40% of mainline Protestants, and 41% of black Protestants.
Pew based its findings off a survey taken July 13-19 among 10,211 adults in the United States, with a margin of error for the full sample being plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.