Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Oregon Trial Court Enjoins Enforcement of State's COVID-19 Orders In Suit By Churches

In Elkhorn Baptist Church v. Brown, (OR Cir. Ct., May 18. 2020), an Oregon state trial court granted a preliminary injunction against further enforcement of the governor's COVID-19 emergency orders in a suit brought by 16 churches and a number of other plaintiffs who complain that the order prevents them from holding church services.  The court held that under the relevant legislation invoked by the governor, a state of emergency could be declared only for up to 28 days.
[W]hen the Governor utilized the provisions of ORS 433.441 in her executive order, she triggered all the provisions of ORS 433.441 including the time restrictions in ORS 433.441(5). By doing so, the executive order became null and void beyond the maximum 28-day time period allowed by the statute. Moreover, by not complying with ORS 433.441(5) timelines, the Governor’s subsequent Executive Orders 20—05 through 20-25 are also null and void....
The Governor has an enormous responsibility to protect the lives of the citizens of our state balanced against the citizens’ constitutional rights to freedom of religion which includes how he or she chooses to worship. The Governor’s orders are not required for public safety when Plaintiffs can continue to utilize social distancing and safety protocols at larger gatherings involving spiritual worship, just as grocery stores and businesses deemed essential by the Governor have been authorized to do.
Reporting on the decision, The Oregonian says that the governor's office has filed an appeal with the Oregon Supreme Court.

UPDATE: According to a statement on Twitter by Governor Brown, late last night the Oregon Supreme Court reinstated her emergency orders while the state Supreme Court hears arguments in the appeal.