By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
The head of two churches involved in a lawsuit against Gov. Kate Brown’s stay-home restrictions applauded a Circuit Court ruling Monday that the governor overstepped the constitution in closing churches, businesses and more.
“It is time that the free exercise of religion be respected and pastors across the state of Oregon be allowed to safely meet,” according to a statement from Prepare the Way Ministries and Bend Community Church.
Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff made the ruling Monday in a lawsuit brought by numerous churches across the state who had sued saying the social-distancing directives were unconstitutional.
Brown said she would immediately seek an emergency review by the Oregon Supreme Court. Her attorneys asked the judge to stay his ruling until the high court could review the case, but he declined.
The suit had also argued that emergency powers only last for a month and after that Brown would have needed legislative approval. The judge agreed and his decision applies to the entire state.
Stephen Williams, director of the two Bend churches involved in the suit, said was in Baker City Circuit Court last week when the two sides argued the case.
“I was shocked by Gov. Brown’s lawyers, Beatty-Walters and Abrams, who asserted that the Governor has NO limits to her power during a state of emergency,” Williams said. “They used phrases like, ‘limitless power,’ ‘no limits,’ ‘nothing limits,’ total authority,’ ‘complete power,’ over a dozen times.”
The suit argued Brown extended the current state of emergency until July 6 without approval from the Oregon Legislature.
These measures have had a vastly negative affect not only churches, but also on businesses, private schools and many other organizations and individuals, according to a statement from Williams.
Brown last week announced the Phase I reopening of the state, which laid out some very specific guidelines for restaurants, bars, barbershops and more to follow.
Phase I did not specifically mention churches, but it did continue to limit gathering to 25 or fewer people. Williams said 97% of Oregon’s churches are larger than that.
“Being a house church, Bend Community Church, we meet with under 25,” Williams said. “But my full-time job with Prepare the Way Ministries has been drastically negatively impacted. We are hoping that this order will help restore the proper checks and balances to the Governor’s power and honor churches with the ability to decide how to safely meet.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.