Faith-based groups say they will proceed with a lawsuit over Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s attendance restrictions for places of worship, despite his concession this weekend that churches can operate at 25% capacity.
Attorneys for the two churches say, based on Walz’s new order, they have dropped their request for a temporary restraining order, which was scheduled for a hearing in federal court Tuesday and, if granted, would have made them exempt from Walz’s restrictions. But the new restrictions continue to violate their religious liberties, and constitutional rights to free speech and assembly, said Katie Fulkerson, spokeswoman for the Upper Midwest Law Center.
“While Gov. Walz has changed his position on religious gatherings in order to avoid a judicial decision, his unilateral actions further demonstrate the need for our lawsuit,” Doug Seaton, the law firm’s president, said in a statement. “Any Minnesotan should be troubled by Governor Walz’s assertion that he can de facto make any executive order he wants so long as he keeps changing his executive order before becoming subject to judicial review.”
Upper Midwest filed the lawsuit in federal court earlier this month, initially saying Walz’s stay-at-home order violated the rights of churches and small businesses. Those suing include Northland Baptist Church of St. Paul and Brooklyn Park megachurch Living Word Christian Center, along with a mini-golf facility, card shop and hair salon business. The lawsuit names Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison and several Twin Cities county attorneys as defendants.
Since filing, the stay-at-home order has expired. But Walz’s executive order limited small businesses to opening at 50% capacity and religious congregations to 10 people in order to stave off the spread of COVID-19.
After talks with faith leaders, Walz announced on Saturday that churches could operate at 25% capacity, with a cap at 250, as long as they followed social distancing guidelines. Walz expressed concern over the order, saying COVID-19 infections have not yet peaked in Minnesota. “To be candid, the 250 number terrifies me,” Walz said Saturday.
Other faith leaders praised Walz’s new order, such as the Rev. Lucas Woodford, president of the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. “We are extremely grateful the governor entered into a dialogue with us,” he said this weekend.