OLYMPIA, Wash. (Christian News Network) — A Republican gubernatorial candidate in the state of Washington has filed suit against sitting Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee to obtain the right to hold one-on-one Bible studies in his yard, which he believes are currently prohibited under the governor’s stay-at-home order prohibiting religious gatherings of any size.
“Prohibiting two people from meeting together to pray and read Scripture while they follow all social distancing guidelines unconstitutionally targets religious activity,” Mark Lamb of The North Creek Law Firm, which is co-representing plaintiff Joshua Freed, said in a statement.
Freed, who is seeking an injunction against the order as applied to religious activity, says he simply plans to meet with one person a day for Bible study and prayer and will keep his social distance while also wearing a mask and gloves. Each person will also be urged to check their temperature prior to the meeting.
“The meetings requested through the temporary restraining order are to involve only a single other person meeting to pray and read Scripture with Joshua Freed. They will take place outdoors, with social distancing at all times followed, hygiene precautions taken, and the visitor bringing his or her own seat and removing it upon leaving,” the legal challenge states.
Freed, the founder of Global Leadership and former mayor of Bothell, has been hosting Bible studies at his home each week for the past two and a half years. He sees anywhere from 25-50 people in attendance each week, mostly young adults.
Following the novel coronavirus’ incursion on America, Freed sought to hold the Bible studies virtually, but the option has been less than ideal as there are technical glitches at times and remote meetings are not as personal. While continuing to hold such meetings, he seeks to have the legal freedom to rather hold one-on-one meetings outside.
However, Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay at Home, Stay Healthy” proclamation, issued on March 23, says that “[a]ll people in Washington State shall immediately cease participating in all public and private gatherings and multi-person activities for social, spiritual and recreational purposes, regardless of the number of people involved, except as specifically identified herein.”
It further specifies that the order applies to “community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers; and similar activities.”
Freed believes this prohibition thus prevents him from holding one-on-one Bible studies in his yard with those outside his household.
The lawsuit filed in federal court on April 29 notes, however, that essential businesses are excluded from the stay-at-home order, such as grocery stores, retail stores, media outlets, and even cannabis shops. It further outlines that as of May 5, outdoor recreational activities, such as fishing and golfing, were allowed to resume.
“Governor Inslee has prohibited any gatherings for spiritual purposes outside of members of a household no matter the size or what precautions are taken to eliminate the risk of such meetings spreading the novel coronavirus. Thus, Governor Inslee has criminalized any in-person practice of religious devotion between non-household members,” the complaint states.
“The criminal penalties may hold even if such a meeting abides by the social distancing and hygiene guidelines provided by the CDC,” it laments. “This directly targets religious gatherings and is in contravention of the federal Constitution.”
The lawsuit argues that the order is not neutral in its application since it allows some secular activities but precludes all religious ones. The prohibition is also not the least restrictive means of seeking to protect the public from disease, Freed’s attorneys contend.
“By not allowing plaintiff’s outdoor meetings, even when careful to comply with and exceed the relevant public health guidelines, Defendant has not narrowly tailored their action to the compelling interest, and thus violate plaintiff’s constitutional right to free exercise of his religion,” the legal challenge asserts.
“Criminalizing all religious gatherings outside of family members is an outrageous overreach that stifles religious liberty and violates the First Amendment,” Hiram Sasser of the Texas-based First Liberty Institute said in a statement. “The Constitution forbids the government from singling out religious Americans for restrictions that are not imposed on other entities.”