Thursday, June 09, 2022

Free Exercise Challenge To New Mexico COVID Orders Moves Ahead

McKinley v. Grisham, (D NM, June 7, 2022), involves various challenges to Executive Orders and Public Health Orders issued by New Mexico officials in response to the COVID pandemic. While most of the challenges were dismissed, the court allowed plaintiffs to move ahead with their free exercise challenge to restrictions on in-person gatherings at houses of worship. The court said in part:

Some New Mexico public health orders treated comparable secular activities more favorably than religious exercise. For example, the April 11, 2020, public health order allowed essential businesses 20% occupancy capacity but prohibited mass gatherings in a church, synagogue, mosque or other place of worship....

Taking the allegations as true, it is plausible that the Plaintiffs state a freedom of religion claim. Therefore, whether the public health orders survive strict scrutiny is a factual inquiry that cannot be resolved on this Motion. For the above reasons, Plaintiffs alleged a plausible freedom of religion claim, and this Count cannot be dismissed at this stage.