Executive orders issued by Gov. Tim Walz during the coronavirus pandemic violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, a new lawsuit filed Thursday claims.
A suit filed in federal court claims two of the governor’s executive orders (20-74 and 20-81) place “unreasonable restrictions” on places of worship by limiting indoor gatherings to 50 percent of capacity, requiring social distancing and face masks, and restricting outdoor gatherings to 250 people.
“Also, wearing a mask makes singing, verbally praying and receiving communion at church more difficult and, at times, impossible,” states the complaint.
The lawsuit was filed by the Thomas More Society on behalf of Cornerstone Church of Alexandria, Land of Promise Church, and Lifespring Church.
“Minnesota’s governor is wreaking havoc on the religious freedoms of the faithful. Christians of all denominations, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews are bound by their faith to worship together. Time-honored rites and rituals, including prayers, singing, communion, and a laying of hands in blessing, are among those elements that comprise the free exercise of religion, for which the First Amendment disallows the prohibition thereof,” said Erick Kaardal, an attorney involved in a number of other lawsuits against Walz.
“That is the central tenet of the complaint. It is only compounded by Walz’s expressly imposed no-exception, six-foot social distancing requirements on religious ceremonies in churches and Minnesota’s conflicting laws that concurrently criminalize wearing a mask as well as not wearing a mask,” added Kaardal, who will serve as special counsel in the case.
The complaint asks the court to declare Minnesota’s combination of executive orders regarding social distancing and mask wearing at church to be unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.
According to the lawsuit, religious leaders fear they will face prosecution by Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is named as a defendant in the case.
“As a result of the Governor’s executive orders and the threat of prosecution by the Attorney General and County Attorneys, religious attendance and religious practices at the churches have declined,” the suit continues.
Kaardal said the lawsuit also seeks “a pronouncement that Walz’s executive orders violate the Minnesota Constitution’s Article III separation of powers provision.”
“Walz is exercising pure legislative law-making power — a thing only the Legislature can constitutionally do,” he said. “Gov. Walz wants to prosecute Minnesotans for religious attendance. We are going to do our best not to see that happen.”
The complaint marks at least the second lawsuit filed against the Walz administration on religious liberty grounds. The Upper Midwest Law Center sued Walz in May on behalf of various churches.