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Michigan Theater Sues Gov. Whitmer, AG Nessel, and Others After Protest Was Denied

— June 29, 2020

Emagine Theatre in Michigan is suing the governor and others after it was prevented from holding a planned film festival.

A movie theater in Royal Oak, Michigan is suing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon after Michigan “shut down a planned film festival that it described as a cinema protest in violation of the U.S. Constitution.” The suit was filed on June 22 by Emagine Theatre. According to the suit, the theater “planned to host a film festival on June 19, also the Juneteenth holiday celebrating the end of slavery, in support of recent protests over police racism and brutality.”

Then-state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer delivering a speech in 2011. Image via Flickr/user:swskeptic. (CCA-BY-2.0).

According to theater owners, they made certain to take “extensive steps to ensure a safe event with social distancing, such as physically removing seats.” Additionally, the owners “sent a 26-page safety plan to Whitmer’s office explaining the precautions in place.” The suit further states:

“On the eve of the protest, (the Attorney General’s Office) served Emagine’s owner, Paul Glantz, with a warning letter, informing him that it would file criminal charges if Emagine proceeded with the Juneteenth film festival interest of public health.”

The theater owners are represented by attorneys for the Butzel law firm. In filing the suit, they “compared the reaction by politicians to protests engaged in by those opposing Whitmer’s stay-home orders and to others who marched against police brutality and racism, sparked by the death of George Floyd.” The suit further states:

“Politicians in Michigan who blasted earlier protests as dangerous vectors for the virus championed these police brutality protests and joined them, dismissively minimizing concerns that the protests would spread the virus as long as protesters kept their social distance and wore masks…Emagine wants to support the movement for equality,” announced it would host a film festival in support of the protests, and planned to donate all proceeds to the United Negro College Fund…Street protests are okay, but cinema protests are not. The governor can protest, but business leaders cannot. Restaurants, public swimming pools, and barbershops are open, but a safety-conscious proprietor who has adopted more stringent standards than required for other businesses to reopen must remain closed—purportedly because of ‘science’ and ‘facts and data’ that the governor still has not shared after three months of shuttering businesses like Emagine.”

The suit also notes that, back in April, Whitmer warned people protesting her stay-home orders that doing so could possibly cause COVID-19 cases to skyrocket, which would mean a longer lockdown. However, on June 4, Whitmer “attended an anti-police brutality march in Highland Park. At the time, stay-home orders had been lifted, but a requirement to maintain social distancing remained in place.” The suit states, “The Governor did not maintain a distance of six feet from others, but her office reported that such activity was exempt as a constitutionally-protected activity under the executive order.”

Unfortunately, attorneys for Emagine said they were forced to postpone the Juneteeth film festival to avoid criminal prosecution. They filed the suit “to vindicate the theater owner’s civil rights.” The allegations against the defendants include claims that the theater owner’s due process was violated because the “AG’s letter effectively shut down the film festival without any hearing and because movie theaters have been ordered to remain closed without any recourse.” Additionally, the suit is calling on the federal courts “to strike down Whitmer’s order on grounds it’s overly vague.”


Michigan prohibits ‘cinema protest,’ prompting lawsuit

Emagine postpones Juneteenth film festival under warnings of legal action

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