More than 10 Oregon churches, multiple individuals and businesses are joining in a lawsuit that is suing Governor Kate Brown over the “Stay home, save lives” executive orders.
The lawsuit was filed last week and has a hearing scheduled for May 14th at 8:00AM at the Circuit Court of Baker County.
Plaintiff’s in the case, represented by Pacific Justice Institute’s Ray Hacke, want to see the current executive orders declared invalid.
The lawsuit states that Governor Brown did not follow procedures, set by the Oregon constitution, when enacting the “Stay home, save lives” executive order.
“She has 30 days to try to deal with the emergency and she has fairly broad power during that time but before the 30 days is up, if she needs additional time, she has to go to the legislature and ask for three-fifths approval of each house,” said Hacke, the prosecution’s lead attorney, “she did not do that here.”
In tomorrows hearing, the prosecution will be seeking a preliminary injunction, if granted, it would stop the state from enforcing the Governor’s orders and declare them invalid between now and the trial.
Another issue argued in the lawsuit addresses the fact that the current executive order threatens fines and/or jail time for failing to comply.
“These churches don’t want to live in fear of violating the law, they don’t want their congregants to live in fear of violating the law,” said Hacke, “A lot of churches share Governor Brown’s concerns about public health and safety, they don’t want to endanger anybody in their congregation, they certainly don’t want to endanger anybody in the community.”
The lawsuit is hoping to enable churches and businesses to reopen immediately.
“The thing is, churches aren’t cookie-cutter,” said Hacke, “some of their buildings are larger than others, they all have different layouts; basically, a one size fits all order doesn’t really take that into account.”
However, if churches reopen and someone in their congregation gets COVID-19, the church could be held civilly liable, according to Hacke.
“Churches have to decide for themselves if it’s worth the risk,” said Hacke, “we’re not trying to force churches to open across the state, basically we’re saying we want the choice.”
New Horizon Christian Fellowship is one of the many churches that is a plaintiff in the case. When asked about their concern for their congregation the lead pastor, Mike Voight said they would take precautions if they were allowed to reopen.
“We have a huge outdoor worship area. That will probably be our first area we would set up tables for families, they would be able to be distanced,” said Voight.
“Common Sense for Oregon” has filed a motion to intervene on the case and joined in the lawsuit.
“Common sense for Oregon is going to bat on behalf of businesses,” said Hacke, “a wide variety of businesses have been impacted by this in different ways, they want to re-open too.”
Pacific Justice Institute is not seeking any damages on behalf of the plaintiffs.
“The ultimate issue here is whether the governor is following the constitution of the state of Oregon. This is a document that is a basis for all laws of the state; she swore to uphold it. If she can ignore it in these circumstances, if she can ignore procedures prescribed precisely for emergencies such as this, there’s nothing stopping her from the rest of the constitution,” said Hacke.
In a conversation with NewsWatch 12, Governor Brown’s Chief of Staff, Nik Blosser said he couldn’t say much about the lawsuit since it’s currently underway but he did say one of the biggest challenges is the fact that the virus spreads most rapidly where people congregate.
“We just really want to keep people safe, that the primary focus and we’re trying to put out guidelines that support that,” said Blosser.