FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 5, 2020
Bill Walsh (651) 373-1819
(Golden Valley, MN) Upper Midwest Law Center’s (UMLC) lawsuit claims on behalf of Northland Baptist Church, Pastor John Bruski and Living Word Christian Center against Governor Walz’s discriminatory restrictions on Christian worship were sustained, and Attorney General Ellison’s motion to dismiss denied by Federal Court Order on March 30, 2021. These claims will go forward to trial per the Court’s Order.
Northland Baptist Church, et al. v. Governor Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison was filed on May 6, 2020, and amended several times as the Governor modified and reissued his Emergency Orders several times. The plaintiff churches and Pastors assert that the Governor has imposed irrational and discriminatory restrictions on Christian assembly and religious services in these Emergency Orders, as compared to secular venues, and that those unconstitutional interferences in religious exercise and assembly should be restrained permanently by the Court. Attorney General Ellison moved to dismiss the claims, asserting that there was, in effect, a pandemic exception to the First Amendment, and UMLC opposed that motion, which was argued on September 18, 2020. Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright issued her order sustaining the Churches’ claims and denying the motion to dismiss on March 30, 2021.
Judge Wright rejected the Governor and Attorney General’s attempts to create a pandemic exception to the Constitution. She held that normal constitutional scrutiny applies to all of the Churches’ claims. Because high levels of constitutional scrutiny apply, Judge Wright held that Northland Baptist Church, Living Word Christian Center and Pastor John Bruski’s claims for violations of their free exercise rights under the First Amendment are valid claims and will go forward with the presentation of evidence to the Court.
UMLC President, Doug Seaton, stated that: “One very noteworthy feature of this decision is that it is the first time that any court has rejected Governor Walz and Attorney General Ellison’s attempt to avoid the heightened scrutiny required by the Constitution. No other Minnesota plaintiff has been successful in defeating the Attorney General’s motions to dismiss on these claims, even in part. This decision will help protect Minnesotans of faith and, we are confident, as the case progresses, Minnesota business owners as well, from the oppressive government action represented by the discriminatory and irrational elements of the Emergency Orders.”
On the other hand, the court incorrectly decided that our business plaintiffs could not bring an equal protection claim under these circumstances, and also dismissed our property takings claims on their behalf. When this case is finally reduced to judgment on all claims, we will appeal the denial of these equal protection and takings claims to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which we believe will reinstate these claims, too. Until then, we will continue to pursue the claims of the Churches and Pastor Bruski in the District Court.
Commenting on the decision, Pastor John Bruski of Northland Baptist Church, said: “I am relieved that, finally, the federal court has validated our claims and denied the efforts of the Governor and Attorney General to prevent us from proving that these Emergency Orders are unconstitutional infringements on our rights to assemble and worship. We plan to do just that.”
UMLC Senior Trial Counsel, James V. F. Dickey, added that: “All Minnesotans should be encouraged that their religious freedoms are protected by the U.S. Constitution and that there is no ‘pandemic exception’ to the First Amendment allowing our state officials to prevent them from assembling and worshipping free of discriminatory and irrational restrictions. Following appeal, we believe that UMLC ‘s business clients will also be free of these government abuses.”
About Upper Midwest Law Center
Upper Midwest Law Center is a non-profit, public interest law firm with the mission to initiate pro-freedom litigation to protect against constitutional violations, government overreach, special interest agendas and public union corruption and abuses. UMLC is a 501(c)(3) organization.
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