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Maine church sues governor over banning in-person religious services

Calvary Chapel plans to hold several Mother's Day services

Governor Janet Mills (D-Maine)
Governor Janet Mills (D-Maine)
(Portland Press Herald / Getty Images)
Updated: May 8, 2020 - 6:12pm

In Orrington, Maine, an evangelical church is suing Governor Janet Mills over her order prohibiting in-person religious services, amid the coronavirus. The suit alleges that she is violating the First Amendment.

Calvary Chapel filed the complaint earlier this week at the U.S. District Court in Bangor. The church is seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent law enforcement from charging Calvary’s pastor, Ken Graves, or any members of the congregation with a crime for ignoring the governor’s prohibition on gatherings totaling more than 10 people.

The complaint argues that the governor is infringing on the First Amendment rights of the Maine citizenry, specifically the right to assemble and practice religion freely.

The complaint reads, “Calvary Chapel brings this case to restrain the troubling transgression of its fundamental and cherished liberties wrought by the imposition of Gov. Mills’ orders surrounding COVID-19.”

“Calvary Chapel seeks not to discredit or discard the government’s unquestionable interest in doing that task for which it was instituted — protecting the citizenry. But, as is often true in times of crisis, Calvary Chapel respectfully submits that in an effort to uphold her sworn duties Gov. Mills has stepped over a line the Constitution does not permit.”

The church claims they are bringing this suit in an effort to ensure that the “court safeguards the cherished liberties for which so many have fought and died.”

Similar lawsuits are being brought across the country, for which some judges are granting exemptions for the plaintiffs. A judge in Kansas allowed two churches to hold in-person services following a lawsuit, but did not extend the order to the entire state.

Ned Lamont, the governor of Connecticut, is allowing religious gatherings to continue in-person, though he is capping the gatherings at 50 people.

The Calvary Church, which is 10,000 square feet, is arguing that they will be able to comply with United States and Maine's  Center for Disease Control recommendations and social distancing guidelines by keeping congregants at least six feet apart and increasing the frequency with which the building is sanitized.

Presently, the penalty for violating the governor’s gathering order is a Class E crime charge, which could result in up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Calvary Church plans to open for two in-person Mother’s Day services, and one drive-in service.