On May 6, 2020, Northland Baptist Church of St. Paul, Minnesota, and other plaintiffs filed a complaint against Minnesota Governor Tim Walz for prohibiting the free exercise of religion in public worship that would adhere to the same heath guidelines presently acceptable for various businesses that the governor has permitted to operate under his COVID-19 executive orders.
Northland Baptist, mind you, is a small church that typically has only 10 to 20 in attendance anyway. If liquor stores (defined as “essential” by executive order) can social distance and stay open, why can't this church do the same?
The complaint faults Gov. Walz for violating the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
3. Worshippers across Minnesota have been prohibited from assembling to celebrate Easter and the Passover, while liquor stores have remained open. ...
97. Northland Baptist Church (“Northland”) is a church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Its Pastor is John Bruski, who also lives in St. Paul.
98. Northland usually holds a Sunday School service, two Sunday services in the morning and evening, and a Wednesday evening service. Northland is a small church that usually hosts 10-20 attendees at each service.
99. Northland was prohibited from holding from any in-person services or other religious gathering by EOs 20-20, 20-33, and 20-48. Governor Walz made clear that EO 20-20, for example, banned church meetings. https://www.fox9.com/news/minnesota-governor-stresses-no-large-gatherings-as-easter-passover-approach.
100. While these EOs make an exception for worship leaders and to facilitate online services, Northland does not broadcast its services live. It posts to YouTube and Anchor FM after the recorded services end. Recorded services are not a replacement for in-person services, as the Bible states that Christians should not “forsak[e] the assembling of ourselves together,” Hebrews 10:25 (KJV), and Northland is a Bible-believing church whose statement of faith declares that “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are THE Plenary Inspired Word of God.”
101. Thus, the EOs banned Northland from holding church services. The EOs do not provide for the opportunity to hold church services while sanitizing the church and common areas and observing social distancing.
102. At the same time, the EOs allowed big box stores and other places, like even bait shops, to operate.
103. The EOs did not allow churches to hold services outside, either, despite allowing outdoor recreation like running, where people often come into close proximity to one another on heavily used trails.
104. Northland wishes to hold church services consistent with proper sanitization procedures and social distancing, but fears prosecution under the EOs by Attorney General Keith Ellison and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi because the church is located and holds services in St. Paul. ...
158.The State does not have a compelling reason for prohibiting church services where congregants can otherwise practice adequate social distancing protocol, especially when compared to the vast secular activities exempted under the EOs, nor has it selected the least restrictive means to further any purported interest.
172. When the government treats individuals or businesses disparately as compared to similarly situated persons, and that disparate treatment burdens a fundamental right or has no rational basis, no substantial relationship to the objectives of the order, or is arbitrary and capricious, that treatment violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ...
Quo Warranto (By What Authority)?
The complaint furthermore faults Gov. Walz for asserting emergency powers beyond what is permitted to the office of governor under Minnesota statute. Specifically, the complaint argues that the governor's supposed authority under Minn. Stat. section 12 is not applicable because:
- that law was enacted to authorize emergency measures in the case of nuclear war;
- Minnesota had only 14 confirmed cases of COVID 19 when the governor declared a state of emergency; and,
- the governor has failed to demonstrate that local government agencies are unable to handle the pandemic without his intervention—a criterion specifically required by the statute.
You may read the entire complaint for yourself here.
Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of Into Your Hands LLC and the author of several books, including Rediscovering the American Republic (2 vols.) and Debating Evolution before Darwinism. He lives with his wife Marie and their homeschooled children in Casper, Wyoming, where he serves as Academic Dean at Luther Classical College. He previously taught American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College, 2003–2023 He also serves as President of the Hausvater Project, which mentors Christian parents. For more information, visit www.ryancmacpherson.com.