Wash. allows 1-on-1 Bible studies during COVID-19 pandemic after lawsuit

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee |

Attorneys for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told a federal judge last week that the state can't enforce a ban on one-on-one Bible studies as it faces legal action over a stay-at-home order that prohibits faith-based gatherings of any size.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Joshua Freed, who has held one-on-one Bible classes while respecting social distancing standards, is now in the clear to hold Bible studies at his home.

An attorney for Inslee told Freed and a federal court last Friday that the government had agreed to allow him to resume in-person Bible studies on a one-on-one basis. 

Freed, a former mayor of Bothell, has held weekly Bible studies at his home for over two years. He said that moving the studies online is not a substitute for in-person meetings. 

“I stared down the Governor and he blinked,” Freed wrote in a tweet. “After more than two weeks of stalling and 146 pages of legalese, Inslee was forced to concede (under pointed questioning by a federal judge) that he cannot enforce his own order banning religious gathering regardless of size.”

Freed is represented by the religious freedom legal nonprofit First Liberty Institute and an attorney with the Bothell-based North Creek Law Firm.

Mark Lamb, the founder of North Creek Law, said in a statement that religious community and one-on-one Bible study “is essential to many people of faith.”

“We are grateful that, in this challenging time for our country, Gov. Inslee was willing to concede that the ban does not apply to Joshua Freed’s home Bible study,” Lamb said. 

On March 23, Inslee issued Proclamation 20-25, an amended version of an earlier proclamation aimed at having people stay home to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Among other things, the proclamation barred “all people in Washington state from leaving their homes or participating in social, spiritual and recreational gatherings of any kind regardless of the number of participants.”

Additionally, the proclamation barred “all non-essential businesses in Washington state from conducting business, within the limitations provided herein.” 

“All people in Washington state shall immediately cease participating in all public and private gatherings and multi-person activities for social, spiritual and recreational purposes, regardless of the number of people involved, except as specifically identified herein,” continued the proclamation.

“Such activity includes, but is not limited to, community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers; and similar activities. This prohibition also applies to planned wedding and funeral events.”

The order included an exemption for any activities, including faith-based ones, “solely including those people who are part of a single household or residential living unit.”

According to First Liberty Institute, the state government did not respond to two requests by the legal group for an exemption for one-on-one Bible studies. 

In response, Freed sought a temporary restraining order from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington that could allow him to hold the in-person studies.

First Liberty Executive General Counsel Hiram Sasser said in a statement that he considered the ban “an outrageous overreach that stifles religious liberty and violates the First Amendment.”

“The Constitution forbids the government from singling out religious Americans for restrictions that are not imposed on other entities,” stated Sasser.

According to The Seattle Times, Freed has dropped his request for a court order but his larger lawsuit against Inslee's order banning religious gatherings will continue. 

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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