Chincoteague-Island-based Lighthouse Fellowship Church (LFC) has filed a second opening brief in a lawsuit against Governor Ralph Northam over 10-person capacity limits instituted in Spring 2020. Although Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled that the church couldn’t sue the governor and that the case was moot since Northam had ended the capacity restriction, Liberty Counsel argues on behalf of the church that Wright was mistaken.
“Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen dismissed the lawsuit by incorrectly ruling that the church could not sue the governor. Every other case in the country involving COVID Executive Orders include the respective governors as a defendant. In fact, since 1908, the 11th Amendment states governors are not immune if the lawsuit is asking for an injunction,” states a Tuesday Liberty Counsel press release.
Last year, police issued a summons against LFC Pastor Kevin Wilson on Palm Sunday for holding a service with 16 socially-distanced people in attendance.
“The charge was violating Virginia Governor Northam’s COVID Order 55 with a penalty up to a year in jail and/or a $2,500 fine,” the press release states.
Although the criminal charges were later dropped, the episode sparked LFC’s initial legal efforts. Liberty Counsel founder and Chairman Mat Staver told The Virginia Star that even though Wilson is no longer facing charges and Northam has relaxed the restrictions on churches, there’s still a need to make sure he can’t institute similar restrictions in the future.
Staver said that the U.S. Supreme Court has found that when a governor changes an executive order, it does not moot the case. He cited the April 9 decision Tanden v. Newsom, where the Supreme Court lifted California restrictions on in-home gatherings for Bible studies and prayer meetings, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Staver said, “Right now I don’t think [Northam] has understood the fact that these are unconstitutional. He should have never issued these restrictions on places of worship and the church in the first place, and we don’t want to have to go down this road again and litigate for months to have a basic constitutional right protected.”
Staver said they’re seeking a permanent injunction to prohibit Northam from returning to similar orders.
He said, “We want Governor Ralph Northam and every other governor in the country to be permanently banned or quarantined from ever returning to these unconstitutional church restrictions.”
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