Three churches in Minnesota are suing Democratic Gov. Tim Walz for placing “unreasonable restrictions” on church services.
Pastors Gerald Ernst of Land of Promise Church, Eric Anderson of Life Spring Church, and Darryl Knappen of Cornerstone Church of Alexandria filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday against the governor for restrictions that limit congregations to 50 percent capacity and mandate mask-wearing and social distancing.
Walz signed Executive Order 20-74 on June 5, which limited indoor church services to 50 percent capacity and no more than 250 people total. It also mandated at least six feet of social distancing.
While the restrictions on capacity limit congregants’ ability to come to church, the social distancing requirements also interfere with their worship. Worshippers take communion, hold hands during communal prayer, and lay hands on each other — activities that are impossible from six feet away.
Minnesota’s mask-wearing requirement also poses a problem. “Wearing a mask makes singing, verbally praying and receiving communion at church more difficult and, at times, impossible,” the lawsuit alleges. On July 22, Walz signed Executive Order 20-81, which requires face masks indoors.
Further, as the lawsuit points out, the face mask requirement contradicts another Minnesota law which criminalizes concealing your identity by wearing a mask.
“Governor Walz wants to prosecute Minnesotans for religious attendance,” said Thomas More Society Special Counsel Erick Kaardal, who is representing the churches. “Other states, including Texas, Illinois, and Ohio have excluded churches from COVID-19 mask mandates. Unlike Walz, those states have recognized that you cannot criminalize religious attendance at houses of worship for any reason.” Minnesota state legislator Jeff Backer also joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff.
These three churches aren’t the only ones that have sued Walz. Northland Baptist Church of St. Paul and Living Word Christian Center, along with several businesses, filed a lawsuit on May 6 protesting his “unconstitutional” executive orders.
Walz also isn’t the first governor to come under fire for restricting church services. In June, a federal judge in New York found that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio were enforcing an unconstitutional double standard by restricting religious services more than other businesses, while also encouraging mass protests.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom is embroiled in a lawsuit against Grace Community Church and its pastor, John MacArthur. MacArthur sued Newsom after the city of Los Angeles threatened MacArthur with fines and arrest for holding church services in person.