Governor’s policy singles out religious gathering in a manner inconsistent with recent Supreme Court decisions
BOSTON, May 10, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — On behalf of New Life South Coast in New Bedford, Massachusetts, First Liberty Institute, the Massachusetts Family Institute, and the global law firm Jones Day, today filed a lawsuit against Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, New Bedford Mayor Jonathan Mitchell, and several other officials seeking to block commonwealth-wide COVID standards that single out churches for disfavored treatment. The church filed the complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
You can read the complaint here.
“A year into the pandemic and after several Supreme Court decisions, the Governor and New Bedford officials continue to act like only secular businesses are essential. It’s past time for state and local officials to stop treating houses of worship unequally,” said Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute.
“The Governor’s and Mayor’s policies seem more calibrated to contain the free exercise of religion than the spread of COVID-19,” said Jordan Pratt, Senior Counsel at First Liberty.
“The state and city single out places of worship for differential and disfavored treatment. The Supreme Court has spoken loud and clear at least 7 times that churches are essential and must be treated fairly,” said Christopher DiPompeo of Jones Day.
In March, Governor Charlie Baker issued Order 66, which advanced the Commonwealth to Phase IV, Step 1 of reopening protocols effective March 22, 2021. Order 66 provides that churches and other places of worship “may open [their] premises to workers and the public” so long as such places of worship follow the Director of Labor Standards’ Sector Specific Workplace Standards for Places of Worship and Religious Services to Address COVID-19. Under the Phase IV standards—which are subject to the Governor’s approval—laboratories, manufacturing facilities, restaurants, coffee shops, and public transportation have no capacity restrictions beyond the practical constraints of social-distancing, while places of worship must follow more burdensome special capacity restrictions.
According to the complaint, “Under [current] regulations, restaurants, theaters, public transit, and other places of public gatherings have limited or no restrictions on capacity, beyond the practical constraints of social distancing, while places of worship must follow more burdensome capacity restrictions. Massachusetts’ regulations on places of worship are unlawful. The Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Tandon v. Newsom makes clear that, where less onerous COVID-19-related regulations suffice for comparable secular activities, those same regulations suffice for religious activities. Massachusetts’ regulations fail this standard. The regulations make it easier to meet at Applebee’s or an AMC theater than at New Life. This cannot stand.”
About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.
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