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Coronavirus

Judge rules in favor of two Colorado churches over state health order related to pandemic

colorado coronavirus covid 19

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- The right for a religious entity to refuse compliance with state pandemic-related health orders, as recently expressed by Andrew Wommack Ministries in Woodland Park, appears to be supported by a Denver federal court judge.

Last Thursday -- two days after a hearing on a preliminary injunction for the ministry was scheduled -- U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Domenico ruled in favor of two Denver-area churches and their pastors who opposed mask-wearing and building capacity limits intended to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

In his ruling, Domenico said the Constitution doesn't allow the state to tell a congregation how large it can be when comparable non-religious gatherings are not similarly limited, or to tell a congregation that its reason for wishing to remove facial coverings isn't as important as the reason of a business.

Pastors of Denver Bible Church and the Community Baptist Church argued that the state's capacity limits on religious gatherings are more restrictive than those for businesses deemed critical by the state.

The First Amendment, Domenico explained, doesn't allow government officials to treat religious worship as being less essential than other human actions, nor does it allow the government to decide what part of a religious entity's routine is critical.

The state is appealing the ruling.

Domenico was nominated by President Donald Trump and received Senate confirmation in April 2019. According to previous reports, some Democrats within the Senate opposed the nomination because of Domenico's stance on social issues.

Andrew Wommack Ministries continued to hold an in-person conference earlier this month despite the health order and no action was taken by the state.

However, the hearing on a preliminary injunction -- filed by Teller County and the Colorado Attorney General's office --is scheduled for Oct. 27, just ahead of the ministry's Women Arise 2020 conference. That event is expected to be held in-person at the ministry's Charis Bible College.

A preliminary injunction would prevent ministry leaders from holding large gatherings over the state's current capacity limit of 175 during the pandemic.

But Mat Staver, part of the Liberty Council legal team representing the ministry, said he's happy about the decision.

"There are fewer restrictions -- and sometimes, no restrictions -- on many non-religious gatherings," he said. "Yet religious gatherings have significant restrictions. "It's what we've been arguing all along. The case was frivolous then, and it's even more frivolous now."

Theresa Sidebotham, a Monument attorney specializing in Constitutional law, said it's unclear whether the federal judge's ruling applies to all Colorado churches, or only to the two Denver-area churches that filed suit.

"What he said, is the government can issue the orders that it needs to issue around COVID and for health," she said. "But what it can't do is treat secular organizations differently from religious organizations -- or more favorably."

Critics of the ruling said the more that churches and businesses are treated differently with health orders, the harder it will be for state and local governments to enforce those orders.

"The Supreme Court has received briefings in similar cases, and has said such orders pass Constitutional muster," said Craig Konnoth, an associate law professor at the University of Colorado. "So it was a little surprising to see a district court judge go against what the Supreme Curt has ruled in similar situations."

The state's appeal of the federal judge's decision next goes before a three-member judicial panel at the 10th District U.S. Court of Appeals, also in Denver.

"I think they'll overturn (Domenico's) ruling," Konnoth said. "One thing you don't expect at the higher court levels is that rulings can be politically motivated because presidents appoint those judges."

It's unclear whether Domenico's ruling will affect the state's appeal and the ministry's hearing next week.

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.

Comments

25 Comments

      1. RealityCheck, let me ask your question with another question that guide you to the answer your looking for currently.

        Is this discussion about the 1st Amendment and how it applies to church events, or was it about political campaign rallies?

  1. A win for democracy and freedom! Hopefully more unconstitutional restrictions are ruled against soon!

      1. Common sense says that we shall not allow the government to infringe on our rights as defined in the constitution of the United States. It doesn’t matter if you personally agree with it or not. If this is allowed then when COVID goes away or is the new normal what then prevent them from claiming anything else to limit religious gatherings. For heavens sake our nation was formed and base don religious freedom. Getting away from a tyrant who tells you how to think and act. We will not allow that to happen again.

        Plus the numbers do not support the regulations. Just like the miracle mask order was to flatten the curve. It didn’t! It only got worse after implement. So the science does not support the restrictions. At first they are all based on assumptions as this has never happened before in modern time to where we have data that shows this or that helped last pandemic. None existent. So we are essentially writing the book as we go.

        1. But that’s exactly what President Trump is trying to do with stacking the Supreme Court. He’s trying to impose religious-based beliefs on all women by denying them to right to choose how they deal with their own bodies. So where’s the religious freedom in that? Allow people to abide by their own beliefs and let other religious people abide by theirs. But don’t impose one set of religious beliefs on everyone.
          .
          As for masks not flattening the curve, that’s because of all the stupid people who refuse to wear them. Don’t fault the masks for the stupidity of people following President Trump’s ignorant example.

          1. Trump is not stacking the court. Stacking the court is when you add more positions to the court so you can influence it. He is just filling his Constitutional duty to fill a vacancy. And since the people elected Trump as President, he gets to chose who that nominee will be. He is the President for the rest of his term. Your nasty Dems would have done the same thing.

          2. RealityCheck, Mikey is correct about Trump not stacking the court. Mikey is also right that it is Trump’s duty to fill any vacant seats. And Mikey is also right that the Democrats would do the same if the roles were reversed, ergo, why this was a point in contention in 2016, because the Democrats did in fact try 4 years ago. The only reason it was halted was because in 2016 the Democrats held only the Executive Branch, not the Legislative Branch.

            Your concerns of the religious freedoms based upon the nominee of the Supreme Court does not relate unfortunately here because no violation has technically occurred. And Wade V. Roe is a point of concern for most. Thus, this is why Biden won’t give a direct answer regarding if he will attempt to pack the court to re-balance the Judicial Branch with an even split by party line, or as close as can be made.

            I also agree with Viral because we, as The People, cannot allow our government to attempt to suspend or remove our Constitutional Rights. Even in the face of a pandemic. My concerns are that so many people will make a public outcry for our government to come in and protect us that they will not be aware that they are asking our government to in fact temporarily suspend these Constitutional Rights.

            “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

        2. How about the power to provide for the general welfare? Have you read that part of the Constitution? After all, we wear seat belts, stop at red lights, wear shirts and shoes into establishments. All for the general welfare.

          1. Great question. Can I use my 2nd Amendment rights to actively infringe upon someone else’s 1st Amendment Rights? I use this analogy to answer your analogy. You can use your 2nd Amendment rights to protect yours, or other’s 1st Amendment rights, but you cannot use it against someone else’s rights. Does that make sense? Its the intent and use of the law, that deems if it is lawful or not.

          2. Additionally, wearing shirts and shoes into a establishment is a Private Property request, not a government request. If an establishment has a sign up that annotates this message, then they are stating that they expect their patrons to comply with this request. Lawfully, if the patron is not willing to comply, then the owner or designee of the private property is allowed to advise you that you are to leave and not doing so after they asked is now classified as a criminal charge of Trespassing.

            Because the private property owner is the ones holding these events, there is no legal repercussions.

            I hope this helps nstilwagen.

    1. Last I checked, Teller County has been Republican since the 2000’s. Oops, wait, we can’t use facts; as Teller County is who filed jointly regarding the case for the injunction, and that just pokes too many holes in the belief that one party is better or worse than the other.

      Face it both parties are feeding at the same trough funded by Corporate lobbyists, and neither party has America’s or its citizen’s at the top of their lists. America’s problem isn’t Republican or Democrat, its the wealthy vs. the not wealthy. There is a reason that throughout history, tales of Robin Hood continue to be revered. Because it is a group of people standing up against tyranny of their government leadership and as we are told, history keeps repeating itself, because we don’t change and fix the problem. Free state of Jones was a recent American Robin Hood Tale. And as you read history there are so many more. So the question is, are you going to continue calling an elephant a dog, or will you learn from history and start barking up the right tree.

      “However, the hearing on a preliminary injunction — filed by Teller County and the Colorado Attorney General’s office –is scheduled for Oct. 27…”

      1. I admire your illusion; however, the system is broke and will never be fixed unless a real revolution occurs. I like to daydream as you, but it will never happen. If a person really hates this country…move.

        1. We’ll see what happens after the election next month. It’s too easy to say that a revolution will fix everything, but that’s rarely the case. However, it’s still not too late to fix many parts of the system by reversing the massive damage done by just this administration. Then continuing to identify and prioritize what else really needs fixing. I don’t know if that’s what will actually happen, but it’s a more likely scenario than a real revolution.

        2. If I hated my Country I wouldn’t continue to stand up to the opposition that is damaging the Country I love. Nor would I have spent more than half my life to help protect and defend the people of this once great nation. Yes the system is broken, and apparently, ignorance is bliss. Making inflammatory comments that create the illusion of it all being one political party or the other gets our country no where. And the daydreaming as you call it is still more action than just following the herd, be it Republican Sheeple or Democrat Sheeple. I choose to be a sheepdog and make my stand against both, because neither party has the American People in their best interests. What you call an illusion is more aptly described as knowledge of observing how our government works and seeing the direct involvement in People’s daily lives. Just because you cannot see the big picture, doesn’t mean that what someone else see’s is an illusion, it just means they see more than you.

          1. Yep. That is exactly it. Take the right to think for yourself. Be objective. I have neither liked Obama or Trump. But one thing that I do know is how my life has personally be impacted. Not joining a “Party” and blindly following their every word. That is how so many things have gone bad in history, people blindly following then afraid to walk away…. then all the sudden they are in Jonestown about to drink Koolaide. Or join to “take what is rightfully ours” and you with a bunch of people in brown shirts invade Poland.

  2. Finally a step in the right direction against the tyranny from the Governor of Denver Jared Polis.

    1. The dictionary definition of “tyranny” reads like a list of President Trump’s actions since he was elected to the office. Governor Polis doesn’t even come close.

      1. Not allowing a protected class their Constitutional rights is exactly what tyranny is. Please, tell me what Trump has done that has been tyrannical.

  3. I just hope the people that attend these Constitutionally protected, super spreader events take all the necessary precautions and stockpiled a 14 day supply of essentials. So after this event, when they return back to their communities, they do not have any reason to go out into the public and potentially spread anything they caught at this event, like every responsible Christian should. I genuinely hope they think about their neighbors, beyond themselves as the attendees made their choice to attend, the community didn’t. So since the attendees made this choice, they need to go into mandatory quarantine. But it doesn’t help the Woodland Park Community, because some of the attendees could be bringing it to Woodland Park, but no one will know until 14 days later. All it will take is one of these yahoo attendees needing to stop off at Starbucks for their Grande Latte Frappuccino, or going into a gas station for snacks and they could have spread this virus into the Woodland Park Community.

    My concern is, public outcry to stop this event could cause the government to attempt to suspend this Constitutionally Protected right, for the betterment of the whole.

    It will be interesting to see the fallout after this next event, or even the one they just had, as that will be a good indication of how this church will handle being the Root Cause for outbreaks in the Teller County community. A Community that, for the most part, has been very isolated from the spread of the virus as prior data shows.

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