Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has faced criticism from in-person protests, from the Republican-controlled legislature, and from the President of the United States, but she has steadfastly refused to modify or weaken her strict lockdown orders. Now, calling her coronavirus mandates a violation of the First Amendment, three Michigan church leaders are filing suit against the Democratic governor.
From Detroit News:
Three Michigan church leaders, including the state House speaker’s father, filed suit Wednesday against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay home order in federal court, arguing it violated their First Amendment rights to free exercise and to assemble.
Stanley “Rusty” Chatfield III, pastor for Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church in Burt Lake, filed suit in Grand Rapids federal court the same day his son, House Speaker Lee Chatfield, filed suit in state court to challenge the governor’s emergency powers.
Joining Rusty Chatfield in the suit are Southfield-based Word of Faith Christian Center Church Bishop Keith Butler, Sturgis-based Whole Life Church Pastor Chuck Vizthum, and Tim Schmig, executive director at Michigan Association of Christian Schools. Butler is a former Detroit City Council member who unsuccessfully sought the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in 2006.
The churches are being represented by the conservative Great Lakes Justice Center.
In a statement, the plaintiff’s lawyer, David Kallman, said that it was unfair and unconstitutional to allow certain businesses to open and thrive while penalizing those who wish to exercise their right to worship.
“Churches are essential to the health and well-being of everyone,” Kallman said. “If Walmart and Home Depot can open and sell goods to customers while following CDC guidelines, surely churches can do the same.”
Technically, churches themselves are exempt from penalties resulting from violating the pandemic orders. However, in giving churches that exemption, Whitmer pointedly did not extend that grace to individuals who might attend services. According to the lawsuit, the exemption “merely adorns the Constitution with a fig leaf and does not protect individuals or change the clear language of the order prohibiting any religious services.”
If the lawsuit is successful, an injunction could invalidate all or most of Whitmer’s lockdown orders.