GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Two southern Oregon churches have filed a new lawsuit, this time in federal court, against Governor Kate Brown — alleging that her coronavirus restrictions unfairly target faith-based organizations.
A previous lawsuit from a coalition of Oregon churches and individuals recently resulted in a County judge rendering Brown's orders "null and void" before a stay from the Oregon Supreme Court temporarily kept them in place. That case remains pending at the state Supreme Court.
In this new case, two churches in Josephine and Douglas counties are represented by attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian nonprofit advocacy group based in Arizona.
A statement from ADF took aim at Brown's ban on gatherings of 25 or more people, claiming that the order "allows pastors to be jailed up to 30 days and fined $1,250 for going to church with 25 other people on a Sunday morning, when they can join those same people and more at a dine-in restaurant for Sunday lunch with no penalty."
Governor Brown's executive orders do allow for dine-in service at restaurants for counties with Phase I approval, however restaurants and retail establishments still face considerable restrictions and sanitation requirements. Restaurants, for example, must keep tables spaced six feet apart, limit parties to 10 people or fewer, and limit customer capacity to ensure strict physical distancing.
“While responding to crises can be difficult, this case is not,” said ADF attorney Caleb Dalton. “There is no legitimate justification for banning church services of 26 or more — with responsible social distancing and health and safety protocols — while allowing malls, gyms, restaurants, and retail establishments to fill to social-distancing capacity.”
ADF said that its attorneys have filed the suit at the U.S. District Court in Eugene. The listed plaintiff is Edgewater Christian Fellowship, a Grants Pass church.
Both Edgewater and its Douglas County counterpart plan are planning to resume in-person services on May 31, ADF said — with "strict social distancing and health and safety protocols" in place — despite the potential for criminal or civil penalties.
ADF said that a motion for an immediate temporary retraining order to halt Governor Brown's restrictions would be forthcoming.
This is a developing story and NewsWatch 12 will update the article with more details as they emerge.