A federal judge has exempted two churches in Colorado from safety guidelines intended to limit the spread of COVID-19 that some see as discrimination and a violation of constitutional rights to religious freedom.
Denver Bible Church in Wheat Ridge and Community Baptist Church in Brighton filed a complaint in August, challenging the state’s mandate on wearing masks and its limitations on indoor gatherings, The Gazette reported.
Both churches argued that the health orders “restrict or prevent religious speech” based on how closely the pastors can be to the congregation and how closely congregants can be to each other.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Domenico said last Thursday that he didn’t believe the churches would succeed at a trial, but he granted them a temporary restraining order preventing the state from enforcing the restrictions.
“The Constitution does not allow the state to tell a congregation how large it can be when comparable secular gatherings are not so limited, or to tell a congregation that its reason for wishing to remove facial coverings is less important than a restaurant’s or spa’s,” Domenico said.
Domenico said Democratic Gov. Jared Polis implemented a public health order that treats houses of worship differently than secular establishments that pose an equal risk of spreading the coronavirus.
The Colorado attorney general’s office filed Monday an emergency motion for a stay, or suspension of the injunction, pending the outcome of an appeal. The decision is now up to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Nothing in the state defendants’ public health orders reveals discrimination or bigotry targeted at religion,” the motion said. “If anything, Colorado’s orders treat religious organizations more favorably than comparable organizations that are nonreligious.”