Gov. Tim Walz’s pandemic-related executive orders and its opponents are once again going to have their day in court — this time over the issue of religious liberties.
The Thomas More Society filed a federal lawsuit against Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan alongside Walz Thursday, Aug. 13, in United States District Court, over executive orders requiring face masks at religious worship services. The complaint asks the court to declare Minnesota’s combination of executive orders regarding social distancing and mask wearing at church to be unconstitutional under the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
According to a news release, the complaint is on behalf of three Christian churches, their leaders and churchgoers who are charging Walz, Ryan, Attorney General Keith Ellison, Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson, and Wright County Attorney Tom Kelly are violating their religious liberties by limiting capacity during services, requiring 6 feet of social distancing and requiring face masks.
Cornerstone Church of Alexandria, Land of Promise Church in Buffalo, and Lifespring Church in Crosby, along with their respective pastors, Darryl Knappen, Gerald Ernst, and Eric Anderson, have been joined in the lawsuit by individual churchgoers Traverse County Attorney Matthew Franzese and Minnesota State Rep. Jeff Backer.
During a phone interview, Ryan confirmed he was aware of the lawsuit, but as of Friday afternoon he had neither received nor seen a copy of the lawsuit itself and, thus, could not comment on the matter.
“Governor Walz, a former teacher, gets a F in religious liberties,” stated Erick Kaardal, the attorney representing the Thomas More Society, in the release. “Other states, including Texas, Illinois, and Ohio have excluded churches from COVID-19 mask mandates. Unlike Walz, those states have recognized that you cannot criminalize religious attendance at houses of worship for any reason. Governor Walz wants to prosecute Minnesotans for religious attendance. We are going to do our best not to see that happen.”
“We are also seeking a pronouncement that Walz’s Executive Orders violate the Minnesota Constitution’s Article III separation of powers provision. Walz is exercising pure legislative law-making power — a thing only the legislature can constitutionally do,” Kaardal continued in the release. “In particular, we seek an injunction against Executive Order 20-74, which mandates social distancing during religious worship, and Executive Order 20-81, which requires face masks and conflicts with existing Minnesota laws outlawing the wearing of face masks.”
Anderson emphasized his church’s decision to join in the lawsuit was not born from any anarchic or anti-government sentiment, so much as a moral duty to protect religious liberties. Describing his congregation as one with a variety of opinions on the issues of masks, social distancing, and other measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, Anderson said Walz’s orders were unconstitutional and, ultimately, a violation of separations between church and state.
“We decided to participate in this (lawsuit) because we care about the liberties of other people,” Anderson said during a phone interview Friday, Aug .14. “We care about our future liberties, the liberties of our children, the liberties of other churches to be able to meet. And we believe that as American citizens of this nation, one of the first liberties that we have and enjoy is the First Amendment … even more strongly because the ability for religious or Christian worship to be held without government interference.”
Anderson said it wasn’t his or the church’s place to speculate on whether Walz’s intentions were good but misguided, or intentionally nefarious in nature, but simply to advocate against infringements of religious liberties.
“We are quite peaceful, like we obey the government. We believe the government has a legitimate sphere of authority in our lives,” Anderson said. “There is legitimate use for the government, as a civil magistrate to punish evildoers and to protect the good, so that we can pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Furthermore, Anderson said his church has taken a stance of personal responsibility. He noted Lifespring Church was temporarily closed and while worshipers are not required to wear a mask to attend services, they’re urged to practice common sense and not pressured to be physically present if they feel uncomfortable or worry for their personal safety. These decisions were made after much deliberation among the congregation, he said.