Democratic Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz rescinded occupancy requirements on the state’s houses of worship earlier this week following a lawsuit from the Thomas More Society and voter initiatives to recall him.
Walz’s Executive Order 21-11, which was approved on March 15, 2021, lifted the last remaining restriction on church attendance in Minnesota, which had capped occupancy at 50 percent. The restrictions remain in effect for bars and restaurants.
“The dominoes are falling in favor of abolishing the states’ limitations on church attendance,” Thomas More Society special counsel Erick Kaardal said in a statement to The Daily Wire. “Minnesota has abolished its church attendance limitations. Next, our plan is to similarly abolish all the other states’ remaining limitations on church attendance, which have been occurring nationwide.”
The Thomas More Society filed the lawsuit against Walz and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison last August, arguing on behalf of three churches that the state’s mandate regarding attendance limits violated their religious liberties. The churches involved include Cornerstone Church of Alexandria in Alexandra, Minnesota, Life Spring Church in Crosby, Minnesota, and Calvary Chapel in St. Paul.
The Thomas More Society, a non-profit national public interest law firm based in Chicago, has filed similar lawsuits across the country, perhaps most notably on behalf of Grace Community Church and their senior pastor John MacArthur in Los Angeles.
The lawsuit cited Hebrews 10:24-25, which says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” It noted that such injunctions exist in other faiths, as well.
“The religious liberty turning point for opening Minnesota churches was the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo on November 25, 2020, where the High Court, under the Free Exercise Clause, required a preliminary injunction against New York’s maximum attendance requirements as applied to indoor religious gatherings,” Kaardal said. “Once the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Brooklyn case, there was no longer any wiggle room for Minnesota or any other state to cap religious attendance, pandemic or not. Similar court victories are occurring all over the country – most recently in Nevada and California.”
“Finally, one of things we will remember about the Minnesota governor’s response to fear of COVID is the unconstitutional, discriminatory treatment of churches and synagogues,” Kaardal continued. “State-imposed limits on church attendance are never constitutionally okay. Governor Walz’s requirements on churches even included criminal penalties for noncompliance with his dictates. What? Were Minnesota courts going to put all the pastors in jail for church attendance during a pandemic? From the very beginning, this governor, and those in other states, should have recognized that houses of worship fit within the definition of ‘essential.’ You can’t get much more essential than church, faith, and someone’s relationship with God.”