A lawsuit filed by 10 churches against Gov. Kate Brown demanding she allow them to reopen for worship services continued to grow this week, with three conservative state lawmakers signing on as plaintiffs: Sen. Dennis Linthicum, of Klamath Falls, Rep. Bill Post, of Keizer, and Rep. Mike Nearman, of Independence.
The lawsuit challenges the legal authority of the governor’s executive orders, arguing that, by forcing churches to remain closed, they have infringed on their constitutional rights.
The claim, filed May 6 in Baker County Circuit Court, asks a judge to issue a temporary injunction blocking the governor from enforcing the stay-home order.
In a statement explaining his decision to join the lawsuit Monday, Sen. Linthicum said the governor’s reopening strategy does not fairly address churches, “which should be treated like other community enterprises that are currently open,” though the bulk of his statement seemed to focus on economic issues.
“The governor’s executive orders were meant to ensure that our hospitals were not overrun with COVID-19 cases,” he said. “One of the more important sectors of our economy is health care, and health care workers have been extensively furloughed and laid-off. Now, with hindsight, we can review our empty hospitals and gain insight on the enormous devastation caused by the one-size-fits-all shut-down policy.”
No churches or pastors from the Canby area have joined the lawsuit, but local concerns have arisen about whether the governor’s orders undermine the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment — including the free exercise of religion.
“People are talking about their religious freedom being hampered,” he acknowledged. “I know, for me — and I understand religious freedom — my freedom as a pastor has not been stifled in these last several weeks. I have not been ordered to stop teaching the Bible. I have not been ordered to stop talking about Jesus and his saving grace.”
On the contrary, he said, his church and others have experienced “exponential growth,” even during the Covid shutdown. And, he pointed out, there are millions of Christians around the world who have no church building to go to, because of religious persecution, poverty or other factors.
“Please remember that the church has never been defined by the buildings it meets in,” he said. “I do want to come back to a building. I want to be part of a community and see you in person. But … we are not restricted by buildings. We have them, but they do not define us. Church in this community — the church of Canby — is alive and well.”
Swor said he — like many other local faith leaders — does want to reopen their church doors “as soon as possible,” but he also understands that there is a process involved. He said they are planning, preparing and working toward what he called a “safe, joyous return.”
“We are processing, we are planning, we are getting ready,” he said. “We have been in dialogue. We are discussing this process. We all do want to get back together. We do want to get back to work and provide for our families. We just want to do it in the right way.”
Photo courtesy Canby Foursquare Church.