After holding a hearing in the case three days ago, a federal judge on Monday denied a legal challenge to Minnesota's mandate requiring youth athletes to wear masks in practices and games.

Judge Eric Tostrud, in an order filed in U.S. District Court, denied a request by advocacy group Let Them Play MN for an injunction preventing the state from enforcing the mandate, which has required masks for most youth sports during competition since they resumed on Jan. 4.

Let Them Play sued Gov. Tim Walz in January, citing equal protection and due process violations with the mandate that it claims unfairly single out youth athletes. Walz imposed the mandate as a measure to help limit community spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Tostrud wrote that the federal constitution has long given the political branches of government "great latitude to resolve difficult questions concerning social and economic policy.''

He added that "the appropriate audience'' for Let Them Play MN's objections "are Minnesota's political branches, not a federal court.''

Let Them Play, which runs a Facebook group with more than 25,000 members, had argued that the Minnesota Health Department manipulated data to make youth sports appear less safe and ignored data showing masks causing harm to young athletes wearing them during vigorous activity.

Attorney Sam Diehl, representing Let Them Play, expressed disappointment at the ruling but said he was pleased that Tostrud found evidence supporting the group's health concerns about masks to be "credible.''

Let Them Play founder Dawn Gillman, in a statement, said the group "will continue to fight for kids, in court, with our leaders, and with the public.''

The state, in a response filed in court last week, called the group's challenge "light on the law'' and "heavy on conspiracy theories and absurd accusations.''