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Civil Rights

Churches Say Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s Stay-at-Home Order Violates Constitution

— May 18, 2020

The lawsuit wants churches to be treated the same as commercial businesses under Walz’s re-opening plan for the state.

Two churches have filed a lawsuit against Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, alleging that his stay-at-home order violates the United States Constitution.

According to the Star Tribune, the lawsuit argues that Walz’s partial re-opening of the state economy picks “winners and losers.” That’s because the governor’s stay-at-home order is set to expire, with a stay-safe declaration issued in its place. Certain kinds of businesses will be allowed to open again, while many others will be required to stay closed until at least the end of May.

Later this week, Minnesota expects to re-open shopping malls and non-essential retail outlets. Any consumers visiting such establishments will still be required to practice social distancing, with malls and other front-facing businesses further being asked to operate at 50% normal capacity.

Along with easing up on shopping, Walz’s stay-safe declaration also allows Minnesotans to gather in groups of 10 or less—even if other members of a given group are not from the same household.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz at his swearing-in ceremony in 2019. Image via Flickr/user:Lorie Shaull. (CCA-BY-2.0).

CBS Local notes that Walz’s latest order allows churches to run altered services, too. However, worship can only take place if there are 10 or fewer people in attendance.

The Upper Midwest Law Center, which is representing both churches represented in the lawsuit, claim the state cannot set different expectations for secular businesses and religious institutions. In fact, the Center’s attorneys say that Gov. Walz is effectively “treating religious organizations as second class citizens.”

“So while it will now be easy once again to go shopping for home furnishings or new clothes on a Sunday, you still are not allowed to attend church, temple or mosque, even though those religious organizations are able to comply with the same public health guidelines,” Upper Midwest Law Center said in a Monday statement. “It is clearly not constitutional for the governor to allow people to go to the Mall of America but not Living Word Christian Center.”

Upper Midwest, adds the Star Tribune, is a recently founded law firm with a “pro-freedom” agenda. Its plaintiffs on the current case include Northland Baptist Church in St. Paul, Living Word Christian Center, and several small businesses.

Teddy Tschann, a spokesman for Gov. Walz, defended the state’s restrictions, saying Minnesota is doing what most other states are doing.

“The virus has forced the state to take drastic action to keep Minnesotans safe, but it’s action that is within the governor’s authority,” Tschann said after the lawsuit was first filed. “It is also in line with federal guidance and similar to what many other states are doing. All of the Governor’s actions have been grounded in the need to protect the health and safety of Minnesotans, and he will continue to work to find ways to get Minnesotans back to work and to a place where they can safely gather in large groups.”

Upper Midwest, however, has since asked U.S. Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright to grant a temporary restraining order within 10 days.

If the Center’s request is approved, churches will be exempted from Minnesota’s stay-safe restrictions.


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