Virginia defends coronavirus restrictions in church lawsuit

Virginia defends coronavirus restrictions in church lawsuit

RICHMOND, Va. — An attempt by a Virginia church to prevent the state from barring gatherings of more than 10 people “would seriously undermine” the state’s efforts to deter the spread of the coronavirus, attorneys for Gov. Ralph Northam argued Thursday in a legal filing.

Attorney General Mark Herring’s office made the arguments in a memo filed in response to a federal lawsuit brought by Lighthouse Fellowship Church of Chincoteague.

The church sued after its pastor was issued a criminal citation for having 16 people at a Palm Sunday service that authorities said violated Northam’s order barring gatherings of more than 10 people.

The U.S. Department of Justice has sided with the church. In a court filing, the DOJ argued that Virginia “cannot treat religious gatherings less favourably than other similar, secular gatherings.”

Lawyers for the church have said that during the service, those who attended maintained social distancing and had extensive sanitizing of common surfaces. The church said attendees had to stay 2 metres apart and use hand sanitizer before entering.

In arguing against the injunction sought by the church, Virginia Solicitor General Toby Heytens wrote that the temporary restriction on in-person gatherings is a “good-faith, evidence-based” emergency measure.

“Such a ruling would seriously undermine Virginia’s efforts to resist a once-in-a-century pandemic and threaten irreparable harm to an unknown (and unknowable) number of people,” he wrote.

Heytens said Northam recognizes that the restrictions he’s imposed — including closing schools and nonessential businesses and issuing a stay-at-home order —”have been hard on all Virginians, including religious communities.”

“But Virginia’s restrictions do not operate in the way plaintiff and the Federal Government claim, nor has religion been singled out for unfair treatment,” Heytens wrote. He said Northam issued guidance designed to help religious leaders “find creative solutions,” including holding in-person worship services of 10 people or fewer, holding online services or hosting a service of any size as long as participants stay in their cars and observe social distancing.

The church argues that Northam violated their religious freedom.

In its statement of interest, the DOJ said the church has presented a strong case that the governor’s order on gatherings “impermissibly interfered with the church’s free exercise of religion.”

Religion

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

$2 raise for some health care workers in Alberta over a month late

Delay isn’t from Alberta Health, spokesperson confirms

Central Alberta drowning and Ontario homicide connected: police

Police say there is a connection between two recent deaths – a… Continue reading

Wind warning issued for central Alberta

City of Red Deer and Lacombe under wind warning

QUIZ: Test your knowledge of the world of summer sports

In a typical year, there are plenty of summer sporting events and tournaments held across Canada

SpaceX’s historic encore: Astronauts arrive at space station

SpaceX Dragon capsule pulled up to the station and docked automatically

Ottawa pledges millions to promote holiday travel in Canada during pandemic

Funding announced include $30 million originally earmarked for attracting foreign visitors

Sweats are in, slacks are out: Could ‘work-leisure’ become business as usual?

Many desk-dwellers are opting for sweatpants as work-from-home era has loosened up dress codes

Minimum wage goes up June 1 in B.C. as businesses face COVID-19 challenges

Increase is part of the government’s pledge to implement a $15 per hour minimum wage

In hard-hit Quebec, families struggle to mourn those lost to COVID-19

The province recorded more than 50,000 confirmed cases and over 4,300 deaths as of Friday

Most Read