Thursday, May 21, 2020

Maryland Stay-At-Home Orders Upheld Over Free Exercise and Other Challenges

In Antietam Battlefield KOA v. Hogan, (D MD, May 20, 2020), a Maryland federal district court rejected several constitutional challenges to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan's COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. Among the plaintiffs were several pastors and a deacon who complain that the orders bar them from holding religious services with more than 10 people, and from attending weddings and funerals in person. Rejecting plaintiffs' free exercise claims, the court said in part:
This court agrees with the reasoning of the many courts that have found similar orders to be neutral and generally applicable.... The Governor’s order is neutral because it proscribes conduct (gatherings of more than 10 people) without regard to whether that conduct is religiously motivated or not. There is no indication that the order is meant to target conduct because of its religious motivation.
The order is also generally applicable. The plaintiffs argue that the order is underinclusive because it still allows some businesses to “accommodate large crowds and masses of persons,” such as Lowe’s and Walmart.... But plaintiffs have not shown that these activities are comparable to religious services. First, these businesses are part of the critical infrastructure, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurityand Infrastructure Security Agency.... and, unlike religious services, they cannot operate remotely...
Second, the plaintiffs have not shown that allowing essential businesses to remain open is “nonreligious conduct that endangers these interests in a similar or greater degree than” religious services....
Daily Record reports on the decision.