Maine Church Is Essential

Feb 18, 2021

BANGOR, ME -- Liberty Counsel has filed a renewed preliminary injunction on behalf of Calvary Chapel of Bangor to the U.S. District Court asking the court to strike down Governor Janet Mills’ unconstitutional 50-person restriction imposed against churches and places of worship. 

It is not an option for Calvary Chapel to preclude its members and congregants from attending religious worship services as that is the reason this church exists. Gov. Mills is also forcing Calvary Chapel to cut the heart of the substance abuse recovery ministry by prohibiting worship.

Ken Graves, the founding and senior pastor, included an affidavit in the brief which specifically emphasizes how the governor’s worship ban eliminates the church’s Calvary Residential Discipleship (CRD) program. CRD is a Christ-centered alternative to secular recovery 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 mandatory for the students. Therefore, there will always be a minimum of 48 students at worship services on any given Sunday and Wednesday. When combined with Pastor Graves, the staff of seven or eight, and the other pastors, the governor’s orders preclude Calvary Chapel’s CRD residents from worshipping in the church. They can meet for substance abuse counseling that does not involve Bible studies and worship, but as soon as they worship, the assembly is illegal. 

Moreover, the 50-person limit also prevents any other church members who are not in the CRD program from attending worship. Yet, worshipping with those not in the residential program is essential for the CRD program. 

Gov. Mills initially banned all worship, and then she amended her orders to no more than 10 people, and then no more than 50 people. After Liberty Counsel filed a new action at the Supreme Court, Gov. Mills issued another order that appears to directly target Calvary Chapel. The new order limits churches to five people per 1,000 sq. feet, or 50 people, whichever is greater. Gov. Mills knew Calvary Chapel’s sanctuary is 10,000 sq. feet, so this most recent order continues the 50-person cap on the church.

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. 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 in the lawsuit against California Governor Gavin Newsom’s total ban on indoor worship. 

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. Yet Gov. Mills allows churches to hold secular gatherings to feed, shelter, and to provide social services and counsel to an unlimited number of people. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Calvary Chapel of Bangor and all houses of worship are not only essential to the community but have special protections under the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled against these worship bans but Governor Janet Mills has continued to discriminate against churches and places of worship. The governor’s unconstitutional actions must end.” 

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