WOODLAND PARK, Colo. (KRDO) -- After the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment told Andrew Wommack Ministries to cease and desist all large gatherings this summer, the ministry has fired back with a lawsuit against Gov. Jared Polis and the health department.
Liberty Counsel filed the lawsuit on behalf of Andrew Wommack Ministries, the organization reported on Monday, and it seeks an "immediate temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction preventing Gov. Polis from illegally and unconstitutionally persecuting religious Coloradans who choose to exercise their First Amendment right to religious freedom."
It all stems from the cease and desist order sent to AWMI over the ministry's Summer Family Bible Conference 2020 event, which took place from June 30 - July 3. The letter said the conference was in violation of Teller County's COVID-19 variance by hosting more people than the 175-person limit allowed at an indoor event.
Despite restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic that limited attendance, CDPHE said their investigation found the event had anywhere between 300 and 500 people at Charis Bible College.
Liberty Counsel responded to that letter and acknowledged there were more people than allowed, but added that they followed state guidelines regarding the "50% capacity" rule. However, the Teller County variance states that an indoor venue can hold up to 175 people or 50% capacity, whichever is smaller.
However, several weeks later, CDPHE traced a COVID-19 outbreak to the event. Seven staff members and 15 attendees from the conference tested positive.
Now, several months after the cease and desist letter was sent, Liberty Counsel is accusing the state of religious discrimination because the organization alleges that Gov. Polis "has exempted 82 nonreligious categories and allows mass gatherings of protestors throughout the state."
The letter references numerous protests in the state over the past few months since the pandemic started. Liberty Counsel doesn't name any specific groups responsible for protests.
Gov. Polis' office hasn't publicly responded to the lawsuit. We've reached out to his office for a comment, and a spokesperson said they don't comment on pending litigation.
Associate Professor of Law at the University of Colorado School of Law Craig Konnoth says the Supreme Court recently ruled on a similar lawsuit in California. "What they'd asked for, as here, is to issue a temporary restraining order that would immediately force the state to let the church reopen, the Supreme Court said no we aren't going to do that," Konnoth says.
However, Konnoth says Wommack Ministries may have a case, since this lawsuit will take years to get resolved, and by then a new Associate Justice for the nation's highest court will have been chosen and may end up reversing the ruling. But with that in mind, the lawsuit may be moot if the pandemic is resolved by then. Konnoth says, "Chances are by the time all of this happens, COVID-19 will hopefully be a thing of the past."