Minnesota's decision to lift capacity restrictions on church services, while maintaining social distancing, is emboldening religious liberty advocates, who want more states to follow suit.
"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. "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."
In a nation that has religious liberty as a cornerstone principle embedded within its Constitution, government-issued restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic have proven controversial and faced legal challenges that have reached all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Thomas More Society was involved in a lawsuit that challenged coronavirus-related restrictions on religious services in Minnesota. The state relented last week, ending capacity restrictions while maintaining social distancing requirements.
The issue of religious liberty has drawn significant attention in the state Minnesota's Democratic Gov. Tim Walz was targeted with three recall efforts last year that were all ultimately dismissed.
Kaardal said that "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."
"State-imposed limits on church attendance are never constitutionally okay," he added. "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."
An announcement earlier this month about the plans to relax coronavirus-related restrictions last Monday also said bars and restaurants would shift from an allowable occupancy of 50% to 75%.