California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order for the state’s highway patrol to stop issuing permits for protests at the state Capitol in Sacramento is a “gross abuse of power,” according to two individuals who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last week. Newsom, a Democrat, gave his directive after hundreds of people turned out to protest the state stay-at-home order on April 20. The plaintiffs, Ron Givens and Christine “Chris” Bish, who were unable to get protest permits, contend that the governor’s order violates constitutional rights to free speech and to assemble and petition the government. —S.W.
In Washington state, a Republican gubernatorial candidate is challenging his state’s temporary ban on all gatherings, including religious ones. Joshua Freed filed a motion on Wednesday asking a federal court to stop Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s Stay Healthy Proclamation, which he recently extended until May 31. The order prohibits gatherings of any size regardless of safety precautions.
Freed contends the order prevents him from meeting with one other person to pray and read Scripture, even though they would meet outside, observe social distancing guidelines, and wear personal protective equipment. He told KTTH-AM the order did not shut down marijuana shops, “and yet, if you are feeling some fear and anxiety and want to go pray with your religious leader, you’re prohibited from doing so.”
The U.S. District Court in the Western District of Washington will hold a hearing on Freed’s motion on Friday.
Courts have struck down restrictions on religious gatherings in other states, and local governments have revised their orders in the face of lawsuits. Governors in Kansas, Illinois, and Tennessee issued updated orders or guidance allowing churches to meet for worship, provided they follow social distancing guidelines. Virginia, California, Maryland, and New Jersey all face new challenges to church gathering restrictions. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement late Sunday in support of a church in Chincoteague, Va., suing for the right to meet in person as long as it takes safety precautions.
Some courts have favored the stay-at-home orders. A U.S. District Court judge in Illinois on Sunday declined to set aside the state’s 10-person gathering ban.
Maryville Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., on Friday asked the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s “no religious services order.” The appellate court on Saturday struck down the state’s ban on drive-in worship services but declined to extend its ruling to in-person gatherings even while noting the constitutional issues: “The breadth of the ban on religious services, together with a haven for numerous secular exceptions, should give pause to anyone who prizes religious freedom.” —S.W.