BOTHELL, Wash. (Christian News Network) — A Republican gubernatorial candidate in the state of Washington has succeeded in his legal challenge against sitting Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order, which he believed prohibited him from holding outdoor one-on-one Bible studies as it prohibited religious gatherings of any size.
“We successfully ended enforcement of the blanket ban on religious gatherings regardless of size by forcing the governor to admit in open court that he cannot and will not enforce his order against ordinary citizens who just want to meet and pray,” Joshua Freed said in a statement on Friday.
“Joshua Freed stared down the governor and he blinked. After more than two weeks of stalling and 146 pages of legalese, Gov. Inslee was forced to concede (under pointed questioning by a federal judge) that he cannot enforce his own order banning religious gatherings regardless of size,” also outlined attorney Mark Lamb of The North Creek Law Firm.
As previously reported, Freed, the former mayor of Bothell and founder of Global Leadership, 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. He then came up with the idea of holding 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 believed this prohibition thus prevented him from holding one-on-one Bible studies in his yard with those outside his household, and soon filed suit with the aid of The North Creek Law Firm and First Liberty Institute.
He outlined that he simply planned to meet with one person a day for Bible study and prayer and would keep his social distance while also wearing a mask and gloves. Each person would 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 stated.
It noted that as of May 5, outdoor recreational activities, such as fishing and golfing, were allowed to resume in Washington — but not religious gatherings.
“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 stated.
“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,” it asserted.
On Friday, Freed announced that an attorney for Inslee had conceded that the order could not apply to on-on-one meetings like those he wishes to conduct.
“After the governor twice refused to respond to our requests seeking a one-on-one Bible study exemption, his lawyers finally conceded in open court,” Hiram Sasser of First Liberty also told told Fox News. “Based on some of the comments made in court by the Washington attorney general’s office, it appears the governor does not intend to enforce any of his shutdown orders against religious activities.”
“This is a very important victory for our constitutional rights and for those of faith where exercising their religion is essential,” Freed said.