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Edgewater Christian Fellowship v. Brown

Description:  A provision of Oregon Gov. Katherine Brown’s COVID-19 executive order unconstitutionally treated religious congregations different from many secular gatherings.

Thursday, Jun 4, 2020
EUGENE, Ore. – Nine days after Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two Oregon churches, Gov. Katherine Brown has issued new COVID-19 guidance that relaxes restrictions on church gatherings. The June 4 guidance revises the state’s public health ordinance to no longer treat churches worse than secular venues such as dine-in restaurants or gyms.

The Josephine and Douglas county churches are planning to resume in-person worship services on June 7 with strict social distancing and health and safety protocols and can now do so without facing criminal and civil penalties. The governor’s previous ban allowed pastors to be jailed up to 30 days and fined $1,250 for going to church with 25 other people on a Sunday morning, when they could join those same people and more at a dine-in restaurant for Sunday lunch without penalty. The governor’s new guidance allows churches and other venues in counties that enter Phase II to host up to 250 people indoors so long as the facility can host that many while maintaining social distancing between groups.

“Government leaders can certainly concern themselves with public health and safety, but they can’t treat church services differently than other venues where people gather,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “We commend Gov. Brown for adjusting her public health guidance to no longer single out churches or treat them worse than gyms, restaurants, and retail establishments. Churches and other houses of worship occupy a vital place in our communities, and they deserve the respect of government officials.”

In preparation for resuming in-person worship services, the churches are adopting plans to follow strict social distancing and health and safety protocols. The churches have voluntarily implemented precautions including making hand sanitizer available to attendees; encouraging the use of masks; taking various measures to direct traffic flow; requiring all ushers greeting or directing attendees to wear face coverings; prohibiting any handouts to be passed to attendees during services; directing attendees to sanctuary seating designed to provide six feet of separation between families and individuals; and prohibiting snacks or coffee from being served.

“Punishing churches while allowing other venues to have greater freedom is both illogical and unconstitutional, and we’re grateful the governor has updated her guidance to address our concerns,” said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. “We’re disappointed that it took a federal lawsuit for Gov. Brown to correct the obvious constitutional problem with issuing a church ban, but we’re encouraged that our clients have the opportunity to meet for worship without facing harassment or fines. We support authorities’ efforts to prioritize the public’s health and safety, but people of faith should be free to assemble as others are permitted.”

Attorney Steve Elzinga is serving as co-counsel in the lawsuit, Edgewater Christian Fellowship v. Brown, for the churches.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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Previous News Releases

Legal Documents

Notice of voluntary dismissal: Edgewater Christian Fellowship v. Brown
Complaint: Edgewater Christian Fellowship v. Brown

Related Resources

ABOUT Caleb Dalton

Caleb Dalton serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he plays a key role at the Center for Academic Freedom. Since joining ADF in 2013, Dalton has served on multiple teams representing private individuals and government entities to affirm the fundamental freedoms of speech and religious liberty. In 2017, he joined the Center for Academic Freedom where he has represented clients seeking to speak freely on campus without fear of unconstitutional government censorship. Dalton earned a J.D. at the Regent University School of Law, graduating cum laude. He is a member of the bar in Arizona, Virginia, and the District of Columbia; he is also admitted to practice before multiple federal district and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

ABOUT Ryan Tucker

Ryan Tucker serves as senior counsel and director of the Center for Christian Ministries with Alliance Defending Freedom. He oversees all litigation efforts to maintain and defend the constitutionally protected freedom of churches, Christian ministries and religious schools to exercise their rights under the First Amendment. Prior to joining ADF, Tucker engaged in private practice for over 16 years with a litigation boutique law firm in San Antonio, Texas, eight of those as a partner. His portfolio included all aspects of civil litigation, both state and federal, with a particular focus on commercial and complex business disputes. Tucker earned his Juris Doctor at Baylor Law School, where he was a senior editor of the Baylor Law Review. He obtained his bachelor of business administration in management at Texas A&M University, where he graduated cum laude. A member of the state bar in Texas and Arizona, Tucker is admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court and multiple federal district and appellate courts.