Liberty Counsel to Help Maine Church Defend Right to Worship

(Unsplash/ Bill Oxford)

Liberty Counsel presents oral argument today to the First Circuit Court of Appeals regarding Calvary Chapel of Bangor's appeal in the lawsuit against Governor Janet Mills' unconstitutional orders against churches.

When Calvary Chapel of Bangor filed its lawsuit in May, the governor's orders permitted no religious gatherings, including parking lot services, and violations carried criminal penalties of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Liberty Counsel Assistant Vice President of Legal Affairs Roger Gannam will present the oral arguments today beginning at 9:30 a.m. EDT before a three-judge panel.

Under the challenged orders, the church can hold secular but not religious meetings. The church can feed, shelter and provide social services to an unlimited number of people, but religious services were previously prohibited and now remain limited, in the same building where nonreligious services can be held.

Calvary Chapel Pastor Ken Graves said, "The government wrongly presumes to have the authority to violate our constitutionally guaranteed and God-given rights to freedom of religion and peaceful assembly."

Throughout the litigation Gov. Mills has haphazardly changed and reinterpreted her restrictions on churches, even as she first relaxed but then reimposed restrictions on many businesses and entities based on her evaluation of the "public health metrics."

But so-called "essential" commercial and nonreligious entities that include liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, warehouse clubs, "big box" and "super center" stores that accommodate gatherings of people were never limited or threatened with criminal sanctions, and people still may gather in these venues without restrictions.

Churches, however, remain subject to severe and continually changing numerical limits.

At the time Liberty Counsel filed suit, Gov. Mills banned all worship, even in the parking lot. After Liberty Counsel filed suit, she said at some point in the future she would allow very limited worship, but only after churches applied to reopen, were approved and displayed a badge on the building.

"Gov. Mills has constantly moved the goalposts throughout this litigation to avoid accountability for her unconstitutional orders. It is time for the court to release Calvary Chapel of Bangor from the governor's unlawful restrictions and to send a clear message to the governor that she must uphold the constitutional rights of Maine's houses of worship even in times of emergency," Gannam said.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, "Calvary Chapel of Bangor and all houses of worship have special protections under the First Amendment and cannot be unequally treated or relegated to second class status. The First Amendment deems churches to be 'essential.' Worship is essential. Gov. Janet Mills has blatantly discriminated against churches, and we look forward to ceasing her unconstitutional actions so she never does this again."

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