A church in Bangor, Maine has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court against the governor's restrictions on in-person worship services.
Acting on the behalf of Calvary Chapel of Bangor, Liberty Counsel filed a petition for cert on Monday asking the high court to review the church's federal lawsuit against Gov. Janet Mills' unconstitutional orders against churches.
The governor allows churches to hold secular gatherings to feed, shelter, and to provide social services and counsel to an unlimited number of people. However, religious gatherings are limited to no more than 50 people despite the size of the building.
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In their brief, Calvary Chapel argues, "If the 'mild climate' of California is an insufficient basis for permitting the Governor to force worshippers outside, then it is much more so the case in Maine where there is no such mild climate this time of year. In a country where religious exercise is a fundamental constitutional right, can the First Amendment really be thought to countenance the notion that religious congregants must brave freezing temperatures and driving snow to engage in that constitutional right? Surely not. The First Circuit's decision telling Calvary Chapel to take its religious freedom outside has – quite literally – left them out in the cold in direct conflict with the decisions of this Court."
Liberty Counsel argues that the lower courts have not taken seriously the irreparable harm caused by Mills' unconstitutional COVID restrictions on houses of worship. When Calvary Chapel first filed its lawsuit last May, the governor's orders permitted no religious gatherings, including parking lot services, and violations carried criminal penalties of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
After the religious rights law firm filed the suit, Mills said at some point in the future she would allow very limited worship, but only after churches applied to re-open, were approved, and displayed a badge on the building.
Following the decisions of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court in South Bay United Pentecostal Church and Harvest Rock Church, striking down the numeric restrictions (Ninth Circuit) and the total ban on worship (Supreme Court), Maine now has the most severe restrictions in the nation on places of worship, according to Liberty Counsel.
Even before the Supreme Court's ruling in South Bay and Harvest Rock Church, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Nevada's 50-person numeric limit.
The church also has the Calvary Residential Discipleship (CRD) program, a biblical-based ministry that helps men and women who are seeking healing and restoration from drugs, alcohol, and other life-controlling issues. The year-long residential program operates two homes, one with 24 women and one with 24 men, for a total of 48 full-time residents on the church property.
Regular attendance at church services is required by the individual to be a part of the program. So there will always be a minimum of 48 students at worship services on any given Sunday and Wednesday. When combined with Pastor Ken Graves, the staff of seven or eight, and the other pastors, the governor's orders preclude Calvary Chapel's CRD residents from worshipping in the church. They can meet for substance abuse counseling that does not involve Bible studies and worship, but as soon as they worship, the assembly is illegal.
The petition also noted Gov. Mills has deemed certain commercial and non-religious businesses so-called "essential" to include liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, warehouse clubs, "big box" and "supercenter" stores that accommodate large gatherings of people. These organizations were never threatened with criminal sanctions, and people still may gather in these venues without restrictions.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, "The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled against these unconstitutional worship bans, and Governor Janet Mills has continued her draconian restrictions against churches and places of worship. The High Court now must end Governor Mills' unconstitutional actions once and for all."