Virginia family sues governor over ban on religious gatherings
GREAT FALLS, Virginia, May 27, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – A Catholic family of 12 has filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Virginia’s Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam over his COVID-19 executive order barring state residents from freely assembling for religious worship.
Northam’s March 30 order forbids public gatherings of more than 10 people, in the name of halting the spread of the coronavirus. Most of the state began Phase 1 of Northam’s gradual reopening plan on May 15, but not the Northern Virginia region.
In response, the Center for American Liberty (CAL) is representing the Diaz-Bonilla family in its case against the restriction – which, in addition to stopping them from frequenting secular establishments as a group, bars them from “going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist (Holy Communion), and praying on their private property with their priest and other believers.”
“The Executive Orders wrongly and unconstitutionally classify the exercise of religion as non-essential,” attorney H. Robert Showers says. “In reality the right to practice your faith is just essential as anything the Executive Orders sought to protect.” Last week, the Trump administration declared religious institutions “essential.”
“Governor Northam’s restrictions on religious expression are overly broad, discriminatory, and unconstitutional,” CAL’s CEO Harmeet K. Dhillon adds. “Our plaintiffs have been blessed with 10 children. But Governor Northam’s Order discriminates against them because of the size of their family—prohibiting them from attending a religious service together, with their Priest present, while smaller families do not face such a prohibition. The Order also discriminates against religious gatherings. Our clients can go to secular institutions together, but it is a crime for them to [attend] religious services together at their parish.”
This is not the only lawsuit Northam is facing over the policy. Liberty Counsel is currently representing Pastor Kevin Wilson and Lighthouse Fellowship Church, which faces up to a year in jail and/or a $2,500 fine for holding Palm Sunday services.
As of May 26, the United States is estimated to have seen more than 1.7 million COVID-19 cases, with more than 100,000 deaths and 477,000 recoveries. An estimated 43% of those deaths have come from nursing homes (with the percentages for specific states often much higher), and mounting evidence suggests far more of the public has contracted and recovered from the virus than the official count indicates.
At the same time, state bans on “non-essential” activity across the country have caused massive job losses, with more than 33 million Americans filing for unemployment and studies predicting that tens of thousands of small businesses that have closed down will never reopen.
The suppression of religious exercise has been one of the focal points for resistance to the COVID-19 lockdowns across the country, along with prohibitions on peaceful protesting outdoors, even when the protestors abide by “social distancing.”