Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Preliminary Injunction Denied In Suit Targeting Colorado's COVID-19 Limits On Size of Religious Gatherings

On Monday, a challenge to Colorado's COVID-19 orders was filed.  In a 98-page complaint, a religious conference center and affiliated Bible college claim that Colorado's limitation on the number of persons who can attend in-person religious services violates its 1st and 14th Amendment rights. The complaint (full text) in Andrew Wommack Ministries, Inc. v. Polis, (D CO, filed 9/28/2020), alleges unconstitutional discrimination between religious gatherings and non-religious gatherings, as well as between the Ministries' religious and nonreligious gatherings in the same facilities, giving examples such as:

178. Under the Governor’s Orders, AWMI’s volunteers may provide nonreligious counseling, social services, and other necessities of life for women constituents of Life Network’s Colorado Springs Pregnancy Center and Choices Pregnancy Center may be administered in unlimited numbers, provided only that social distancing is satisfied.

179. But, if volunteers associated with AWMI and Charis Bible College students transition from providing these women with counseling, social services, food, clothing, and other necessities of life to providing them spiritual counseling, spiritual food in the form of communion, or otherwise transitions to a religious worship service with the same women in the same room, the Governor’s Orders would automatically subject them to criminal penalties for hosting an impermissible worship service if there is more than 175 women in the room.

The complaint says that speedy relief is required:

4. The Governor’s Orders interfere with and place a cloud of potential criminal and civil legal action over AWMI’s upcoming Pastor’s Conference scheduled to begin at 7:00 PM on October 5, 2020. In addition to outside pastors and ministers who are invited to the conference, attendance at the conference is a required part of the education program for all 652 students at Charis Bible College.

Liberty Counsel issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

On Tuesday, in a 7-page order (full text), a Colorado federal district judge denied a preliminary injunction, pointing out:

United States District Judge Raymond Moore recently rejected Plaintiff’s arguments in High Plains Harvest Church v. Polis.... Additionally, the Seventh Circuit recently rejected a church’s argument that similar public health laws unconstitutionally favored secular activity

Plaintiff immediately filed a Notice of Appeal.