A group of Oregon churches and individuals are claiming Gov. Kate Brown's social distancing order due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is unconstitutional. Among the churches is Calvary Chapel Lincoln City and Pastor Phil Magnan.
The Lincoln City church is one of 10 churches across Oregon that filed the lawsuit, including lead plaintiff Elkhorn Baptist Church in Baker City. On May 18, a Baker County Judge tossed out Gov. Brown's Coronavirus restrictions, as Judge Mathew Shirtcliff issued the "null and void" ruling, saying Brown did not have emergency orders approved by the Oregon Legislature following 28 days, according to the AP.
The Oregon Supreme Court has since taken action to uphold Governor Kate Brown's Stay Home, Save Lives Order. Gov. Brown issued the following statement following the Oregon Supreme Court’s emergency ruling late Monday, May 18, in the Elkhorn Baptist Church vs. Katherine Brown lawsuit.
“Following swift action by the Oregon Supreme Court, my emergency orders to protect the health and safety of Oregonians will remain in effect statewide while the court hears arguments in this lawsuit,” Gov. Brown said. “From the beginning of this crisis, I have worked within my authority, using science and data as my guide, heeding the advice of medical experts. This strategy has saved lives and protected Oregonians from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are no shortcuts for us to return to life as it was before this pandemic. Moving too quickly could return Oregon to the early days of this crisis, when we braced ourselves for hospitals to be overfilled and ventilators in short supply.”
Brown then cited her reliance on science for decision making, which has included physical distancing, wearing face coverings and staying home as often as possible.
“We all look forward to visiting our loved ones in nursing homes, sending our children to school, and going to the grocery store without fear of spreading this disease,” Brown said. “But the simple fact remains, COVID-19 is here in Oregon, and lives are at stake.”
Salem-based attorney Ray D. Hacke, who is representing the Oregon churches said so far the churches have respected the Governor's order banning gatherings of more than 25 people and they are discouraging Oregonians from being around more than 10 people at a time. But the churches no longer believe such an order is justified, the lawsuit states.
During the Governor’s stay home order, Calvary Chapel Lincoln City has been conducting drive-in church services and Magnan said the church will await the Oregon Supreme court’s ruling before resuming normal worship services.
“We hold no animosity toward the Governor. We in fact pray for her,” Magnan said. “Even if we prevail we would still include social distancing measures in our services. We won’t receive any damages if we prevail — this is about holding the governor accountable to following Oregon law."
The Oregon Supreme Court’s decision to uphold will remain in effect until the high court considers the state’s full petition to dismiss the Baker County Circuit judge’s preliminary injunction.
For Calvary Chapel Lincoln City, their initial decision to become a plaintiff in the lawsuit was not only driven by their right to freely exercise their religions, but also by the affects they’ve seen within the Lincoln City community, according to Magnan.
"We joined other churches in this suit, not only because the Governor violated the U.S. Constitution and our State Constitution, but we were deeply concerned about those policies that would deeply harm and make poor, working families and businesses,” Magnan said. “We were not surprised that the Oregon Supreme Court stayed the injunction against the Governor’s orders. We only hope that they will see that the Governor's executive orders did not follow Oregon law."