Editor's note: A previous headline incorrectly indicated that the lawsuit had been won. This has been updated as there is no clear indication whether the suit is still pending now that a result has been achieved in favor of the churches.
Two Oregon churches had filed a lawsuit May 26 against Governor Katherine Brown’s COVID-19 restrictions on churches. Nine days later, the governor has relaxed those restrictions, and churches are planning how to reopen safely for services.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit that represented Edgewater Christian Fellowship and the Roseburg Church of God of Prophecy in the case, said that the restrictions unfairly limited churches as opposed to other secular institutions, like restaurants and retail stores.
The ADF explained that under the restrictions, a group of 25 people could gather at a dine-in restaurant for a meal Sunday, but if those same people gathered in a church for worship, they would face penalties. Pastors of those churches could be jailed for up to 30 days and face a fine of $1,250.
“The problem is the governor is treating people in a secular setting one way, but if they happen to do the exact same act in a religious setting, then it becomes a problem,” said Ryan Tucker, senior council at the Alliance Defending Freedom.
According to an OBP report, the church leaders worried that “drive-in services and online services ‘do not fully meet the Bible’s requirement’” to gather in person to pray.
On June 4, the restrictions were eased.
“Punishing churches while allowing other venues to have greater freedom is both illogical and unconstitutional, and we’re grateful the governor has updated her guidance to address our concerns,” said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries.
The churches are planning to reopen their doors June 7, with plans in place to curb the spread of COVID-19. Those precautions include making hand sanitizer available to all guests and encouraging the use of face coverings. All ushers will be wearing masks, and seating will be spaced out to include six feet of distance between groups. No handouts will be given to visitors, and no coffee or snacks will be provided.
This incident follows a previous lawsuit filed by 10 churches, the nonprofit Pacific Justice Institute and 21 others against governor Brown’s restrictions, reports Oregon Live.
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Bethany Pyle is the editor for Bible Study Tools.com and the design editor for Crosscards.com. She has a background in journalism and a degree in English from Christopher Newport University. When not editing for Salem, she enjoys good fiction and better coffee.