Maine Church Goes to SCOTUS

Feb 11, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Liberty Counsel has filed on behalf of Calvary Chapel of Bangor to the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to issue an injunction pending appeal and/or to vacate the lower court decisions regarding Governor Janet Mills’ unconstitutional orders against churches. 

Ken Graves is the founding and senior pastor of Calvary Chapel of Bangor. The church also has the Calvary Residential Discipleship program, a biblical-based ministry that helps men and women who are seeking a way of escape from drugs, alcohol, and other life-controlling issues. The year-long residential program operates two homes with 24 women and 24 men for a total of 48 full-time resident on the church property. C.R.D. is a Christ-centered alternative to secular programs within the drug and alcohol community and includes a work program, daily Bible studies, devotional readings and prayer. Regular attendance at church services is paramount to this program. 

The lower courts have not taken seriously the irreparable harm caused by Gov. Mills’ unconstitutional COVID restrictions on houses of worship. When Calvary Chapel of Bangor filed its lawsuit last May, the governor’s orders permitted no religious gatherings, including parking lot services, and violations carried criminal penalties of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. 

Following the decisions of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court in South Bay United Pentecostal Church and Harvest Rock Church, striking down the numeric restrictions (Ninth Circuit) and the total ban on worship (Supreme Court), Maine now has the dubious distinction of imposing the most severe restrictions in the nation on places of worship with its 50-person numerical cap notwithstanding the size of the facility.

The discrimination is clear because Gov. Mills allows churches to hold secular gatherings to feed, shelter, and to provide social services and counsel to an unlimited number of people. But religious gatherings have been banned and now are limited to no more than 50 people despite the size of the building. 

Even before last Saturday’s Supreme Court ruling in South Bay and Harvest Rock Church, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Nevada’s 50-person numeric limit. 

Those so-called “essential” commercial and non-religious entities that include liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, warehouse clubs, “big box” and “supercenter” stores that accommodate gatherings of people were never limited or threatened with criminal sanctions, and people still may gather in these venues without restrictions. Those exempted activities also include transportation facilities, bus stations, train stations, airports, manufacturing facilities, gas stations, laundromats, industrial manufacturing, post offices and shipping outlets, financial payment, clearing, and settlement operations, legal, business, and professional services. 

On Thanksgiving Eve, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of New York City synagogues and Roman Catholic churches in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo and Agudath Israel v. Cuomo, thus eliminating the 10- and 25-person numerical caps. In this decision Justice Gorsuch wrote, “There is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that open liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques.” Last December, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley and Calvary Chapel Lone Mountain in their lawsuits against Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak’s unconstitutional 50-person worship bans. On February 6, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Liberty Counsel clients Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry against California Governor Gavin Newsom’s total ban on indoor worship.  In the opinion, Justice Gorsuch, joined by Thomas and Alito, in which Barrett and Kavanaugh concurred, wrote: “Today’s order should have been needless; the lower courts in these cases should have followed the extensive guidance this Court already gave.” 

At the time Liberty Counsel filed suit, Gov. Mills banned ALL worship, even in the parking lot. After Liberty Counsel filed suit, she said at some point in the future she would allow very limited worship, but only after churches applied to re-open, were approved, and displayed a badge on the building. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Calvary Chapel of Bangor and all houses of worship have special protections under the First Amendment and cannot be unequally treated or relegated to second class status. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled against these unconstitutional worship bans and Governor Janet Mills has continued to discriminate against churches and places of worship. The Governor’s unconstitutional actions must end.” 

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