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Minnesota’s “Criminalization of Religious Worship” Ends: Governor Rescinds Church Attendance Limitations

Next, our plan is to similarly abolish all the other states’ remaining limitations on church attendance, which have been occurring nationwide.”

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has rescinded all occupancy requirements on Minnesota’s houses of worship, with the issuance of his Executive Order 21-11 on March 15, 2021.

Following the filing of a federal lawsuit by the Thomas More Society in August 2020, and state voter initiatives to recall Walz, “The dominoes are falling in favor of abolishing the states’ limitations on church attendance,” declared Thomas More Society Special Counsel Erick Kaardal. “Minnesota has abolished its church attendance limitations. Next, our plan is to similarly abolish all the other states’ remaining limitations on church attendance, which have been occurring nationwide.”

Governor Walz’s new COVID-19 Executive Order rescinded the last restriction on church attendance in Minnesota, a fifty percent occupancy requirement, while similar occupancy requirements continue to apply to bars and restaurants in Minnesota. In some other states, church attendance limitations are still being imposed.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of three Christian churches, their leaders, and churchgoers, charged Walz and the Attorney General with violating their religious liberties by limiting their respective church’s attendance.  Similar lawsuits have been filed across the country challenging government-targeted church attendance limitations as a violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise of Religion Clause.

Kaardal commented, “The religious liberty turning point for opening Minnesota churches was the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo on November 25, 2021, where the High Court, under the Free Exercise Clause, ordered a preliminary injunction against New York’s maximum attendance requirements as applied to indoor religious gatherings. Once the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Brooklyn case, there was no longer any wiggle room for Minnesota or any other state to cap religious attendance, pandemic or not. Similar court victories are occurring all over the country.”

“Finally, one of things we will remember about the Minnesota governor’s response to fear of COVID is the unconstitutional, discriminatory treatment of churches and synagogues,” Kaardal observed. “State-imposed limits on church attendance are never constitutionally okay. Governor Walz’s requirements on churches even included criminal penalties for noncompliance with his dictates. What? Were Minnesota courts going to put all the pastors in jail for church attendance during a pandemic? From the very beginning, this governor, and those in other states, should have recognized that houses of worship fit within the definition of ‘essential.’ You can’t get much more essential than church, faith, and someone’s relationship with God.”

The Thomas More Society is representing Cornerstone Church of Alexandria (Minnesota), Life Spring Church (in Crosby, Minnesota), Cavalry Chapel (in St. Paul, Minnesota), along with their respective pastors, Darryl Knappen, Eric Anderson, and Chik Chikeles. The suit names Minnesota Governor Tim Walz as defendant, along with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.

Read the Thomas More Society’s Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, filed with the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota in Cornerstone Church of Alexandria, et al. v. Tim Walz, et al. on January 11, 2021, here.

Read more about this religious freedom lawsuit here.

SOURCE: Thomas More Society

PHOTO CREDIT: Monica Arellano-Ongpin

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