A church in rural Virginia is not giving up on its federal lawsuit that claims Gov. Ralph Northam’s coronavirus restrictions have unfairly targeted churchgoers.
The Lighthouse Fellowship Church in Accomack County filed its second opening brief Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond after the court had rejected its previous motion for a preliminary injunction and sent the case back to the district court.
In its 69-page brief, the church argues that the lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit should be reversed because it wrongly ruled that the church could not sue Mr. Northam. The church says the 11th Amendment ensures that a governor is not immune from a lawsuit that requests an injunction.
The appeal stems from a complaint filed in federal court last April after the church’s pastor, Kevin Wilson, was charged with violating the governor’s order limiting in-person religious services to 10 people or fewer. The charges, which carried up to a year in jail and/or a $2,500 fine, have since been dropped.
The church argues that Mr. Northam’s order was discriminatory because non-religious gatherings were exempt or given “more favorable” restrictions.
A judge denied the church’s request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. The church then filed an appeal which was rejected on the grounds that the 10-person limit had been amended and no longer applied to houses of worship.
The church is represented by attorneys from Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit focused on religious freedom.
Mat Staver, lead attorney and founder of Liberty Counsel, said Tuesday in a press release that Mr. Northam “clearly discriminated” against the church.
“Governor Ralph Northam’s worship restrictions are unconstitutional, and the court must prevent him from reverting back to these restrictions at any whim,” Mr. Staver said. “Churches have a First Amendment right to exist, and the Supreme Court has ruled accordingly in favor of religious freedom.”