By: First Liberty Staff – firstliberty.org– April 29, 2020
Religious Liberty Law Firm Seeks Restraining Order Against Washington Governor’s Criminalization of Bible Study
Governor’s policy banning religious gatherings of any size is inconsistent with CDC Guidelines and violates the Constitution
Seattle, WA—First Liberty Institute and a network attorney with The North Creek Law Firm today sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) on behalf of Joshua Freed against Washington Governor Jay Inslee. The TRO seeks to block Governor Inslee’s outright ban on religious gatherings of any size during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to allow Freed to conduct one-on-one Bible study and prayer. The TRO, available here, was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington.
“Criminalizing all religious gatherings outside of family members is an outrageous overreach that stifles religious liberty and violates the First Amendment,” said Hiram Sasser, Executive General Counsel at First Liberty. “The Constitution forbids the government from singling out religious Americans for restrictions that are not imposed on other entities.”
“Prohibiting two people from meeting together to pray and read scripture while they follow all social distancing guidelines unconstitutionally targets religious activity,” said Mark Lamb, Owner and Founder of The North Creek Law Firm.
Mr. Freed and his wife hosted Bible studies in their home weekly for the past two and a half years. During the pandemic, Mr. Freed made efforts to conduct the Bible study via remote meetings. However, these virtual meetings are simply no substitute for in-person meetings, due to the lack of privacy and closeness, and the technical glitches frequently experienced. Instead, Mr. Freed seeks to meet one-on-one with participants outdoors, with only one meeting per day, following the CDC Guidelines and with additional safeguards including social distancing of at least 6 feet between individuals, wearing personal protective equipment, including a mask and gloves, and prohibiting handshaking or physical contact.
On March 23, Governor Inslee issued Proclamation 20-25 prohibiting spiritual gatherings of any size due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, Governor Inslee exempts a number of businesses he deems “essential.” These include many retail, grocery, media, and even cannabis establishments.
In its request for a TRO, First Liberty explains, “Defendant’s targeting of religious adherents from gathering in a manner consistent with governmental social distancing guidelines, while permitting similar (and at times even more intimate) social interaction to continue unabated in some retail and commercial establishments, flies in the face of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
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