Judge Nixes Oregon Governor’s Coronavirus-Related Restrictions on Religious Gatherings

Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s coronavirus-related lockdown orders are illegal according to a county judge who has ruled them “null and void.”

According to Baker County circuit judge Matthew Shirtcliff, Brown’s decision to bar churches from meeting under the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is illegal as it continues a previously expired emergency declaration.

Rather than seek confirmation from the state’s legislature, Brown continued to implement the ban “put in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus,” the National Review reports.

So, the judge issued a preliminary injunction to the ten churches involved in a lawsuit against the governor over the restrictions.

“This court understands that the current pandemic creates an unprecedented crisis in our state as well as this country,” Shirtcliff said in his final ruling in Elkhorn Baptist Church vs. Katherine Brown via the National Review. “The Governor has an enormous responsibility to protect the lives of the citizens of our state balanced against the citizens’ constitutional rights to freedom of religion which includes how he or she chooses to worship. The Governor’s orders are not required for public safety when Plaintiffs can continue to utilize social distancing and safety protocols at larger gatherings involving spiritual worship, just as grocery stores and businesses deemed essential by the Governor have been authorized to do.”

The state’s administration is looking to appeal the case and reach a more favorable outcome. The National Review reports:

Social-distancing directives implemented beyond Brown’s 28-day emergency order would require legislative approval, Shirtcliff ruled. He said the churches had shown they suffered “irreparable harm” from the restrictions.

The governor plans to appeal to the state’s high court, according to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who said in a statement that she believes Shirtcliff’s ruling is “legally incorrect” and that her office will ask for an immediate stay of his order.

“We will argue that the judge erred in his construction of the relevant statutes and that he abused his discretion in issuing the preliminary injunction,” Rosenblum said.