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First Circuit Court of Appeals hears case involving Calvary Chapel

Leaders of Calvary Chapel filed a lawsuit against the governor in May over her COVID-19 restrictions.
Orrington church takes to First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Orrington church takes to First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 5:30 PM EDT
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BOSTON, Massachusetts (WABI) - Lawyers representing an Orrington church that’s continuing its fight to worship in person without limits presented their case Wednesday to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

Leaders of Calvary Chapel filed a lawsuit against the governor in May over her COVID-19 restrictions.

They argued her Executive Order, banning all in-person worship, including parking lot services was unconstitutional.

A federal judge ruled against them.

During that time, churches were not allowed to hold in-person services.

In June, that changed when the state allowed services with up to 50 people.

In oral arguments Wednesday, lawyers for the State say they had to weigh the first amendment rights of freedom of religion with the health of Mainers.

Lawyers for Calvary Chapel say that it is unfair that churches were prohibited from in-person worship, but were able to provide others services such as counseling.

They add that one is motivated by religious reasons, the other is not.

“Under the Supreme Court standard, what we must look at is, is the state allowing things of similar risk, not just the same as in the surface, but is the state allowing conduct of similar risk to worship while restricting worship, and if that’s the case then it doesn’t meet the free exercise standard,” said Roger Gannam, Liberty Counsel Assistant Vice President of Legal Affairs.

“We understand that religion has special protection under the First Amendment, and we don’t take that lightly, but at the same time, the State was facing an unprecedented pandemic and so we had to balance that interest in protecting religious freedom against the health and safety of Maine’s people,” said Christopher Taub, Deputy Attorney General.

Pastor Ken Graves released a statement through Liberty Counsel, which is representing the church.

“The government wrongly presumes to have the authority to violate our constitutionally guaranteed and God-given rights to freedom of religion and peaceful assembly.”

Pastor Ken Graves

Liberty Counsel says they are defending churches in five separate federal lawsuits in Maine, California, Illinois, Kentucky, and Virginia.

Audio of Wednesday’s oral arguments can be found here.

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