A federal judge in Colorado has ruled against a ministry that wanted to hold an in-person conference that would have over 175 people, in violation of a state public health order.
U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello ruled against a request by Andrew Wommack Ministries International to exempt them from the in-person cap imposed by Governor Jared Polis.
AWMI had planned to hold a pastors conference next Monday at their affiliate ministry Charis Bible College, which has approximately 650 enrolled students.
“Granting such an injunction would present a high risk of harm to the state of Colorado as well as the public generally,” ruled Arguello on Tuesday.
“The relief the Plaintiff requests has the potential to increase case numbers significantly, placing a high burden on the state. Further, Plaintiff would be compromising the health of the public, which could cause the death of an untold number of innocent citizens.”
AWMI is being represented by Liberty Counsel, which filed an emergency request for an injunction on Thursday before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
“The Governor’s Orders must satisfy strict scrutiny because they substantially burden AWMI’s religious exercise and are neither neutral nor generally applicable,” read the request.
“The Orders are not neutral or generally applicable because they internally discriminate between AWMI’s impermissible religious activities and AWMI’s permissible non-religious activities in the same building for the same number of people.
"Prohibiting Coloradans from joining others at a religious gathering for religious reasons, such as a worship service or conference, while permitting them to join others at the same facility for non-religious reasons, such as giving or receiving food, shelter, or counseling, 'violat[es] the Free Exercise Clause beyond all question.'"
Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver said in a statement on Thursday that Colorado’s restrictions “give preferential treatment to nonreligious gatherings over religious gatherings.”
“While the virus does not discriminate between nonreligious and religious gatherings, Gov. Polis does. This discriminatory treatment is unconstitutional,” he continued.
According to Colorado’s official guidance on outdoor gatherings, a venue cannot have more than 175 people “per designated capacity,” depending on the “usable square footage” of said venue.
Some churches have argued that they are being unfairly targeted by state limits on in-person gatherings aimed at helping to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Lawsuits centered on challenging state and local government restrictions on in-person worship have had mixed results in the courts, with some churches failing to get exemptions.
On Thursday, a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled 2-1 to reject an emergency injunction request from a Pasadena, California-based ministry.
The majority concluded that Harvest Rock Church, Inc. and Harvest International Ministry, Inc. were not being unfairly treated compared to similar, secular entities under the meeting restrictions imposed by California.
“The Orders apply the same restrictions to worship services as they do to other indoor congregate events, such as lectures and movie theaters. Some congregate activities are completely prohibited in every county, such as attending concerts and spectating sporting events,” stated the majority.