After Catholic and Lutheran churches in Minnesota decided to defy Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order that reopened retail businesses to 50 percent capacity but kept churches limited to 10 people, Walz relented in time for Pentecost Sunday.
On May 20, the Minnesota Catholic Conference and The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod sent Walz separate letters announcing their decision to reopen in defiance of his executive order, due to its unconstitutional discrimination against religious exercise. The nonprofit law firm Becket, which represented the churches, said Walz’s original “executive order… wrongly subordinated Minnesotans’ spiritual well-being to economic interests.”
“It’s crazy that these tyrannical governors don’t see how well some of these other states are operating,” said Kelly Bellini, a Minnesotan Catholic, in a phone interview. “Our family supports our parish opening. We will abide by whatever guidelines are put in place. People have so willingly, in ten weeks, given up their rights and allowed themselves to be oppressed. It’s like, ‘Welcome to communism.’ I don’t like it. I want to go back.”
On May 13, Walz issued an executive order with guidelines for reopening May 26. While the order allowed malls, shops, and even casinos to open at 50 percent capacity, it failed to let churches do the same.
Walz’s executive order was a clear violation of Minnesotans’ religious freedoms. Reopening the Mall of America but refusing to reopen churches was a blatant and appalling act of discrimination against houses of worship.
Prior to defying the governor’s order, the Catholic and Lutheran churches tried to come to an agreement with Walz. This failed. So they then decided to partially reopen Tuesday, May 26, and fully open Sunday, May 31.
Houses of worship were not, however, throwing caution to the wind. The churches committed to following all of the Centers for Disease Control guidelines for social distancing, masks, and sanitization, and intended to adhere to the same regulations applied to commercial businesses.
In an e-mail, Alan Mackenthun, a resident of Prior Lake who grew up a Missouri Synod Lutheran and currently attends a a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran church, told me: “I’d really like the governor to treat us as adults and free people and give us the chance to make decisions for ourselves. He might be surprised. I understood the strategy of flattening the curve, but we’re well past that now and we’ve learned a lot. Governor Walz’ latest orders aren’t driven either by science or even rational consistency. The churches have no choice but to reject his authority. He is violating the civil rights of worshipers by treating Churches as less essential than restaurants.”
As great as it is that Walz is now “allowing” churches to reopen alongside businesses, it shouldn’t take 48 hours of controversy and negative press to make an elected official stop violating his constituents’ First Amendment rights. What if the Catholic Conference and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod had been unable to secure legal representation and alert the press to their squelched rights in the first place? It shouldn’t take a team of local and national attorneys to secure for religious Americans the same rights as a secular organization.