BOISE – Three northern Idaho citizens have filed federal lawsuits challenging statewide restrictions ordered by Governor Brad Little because of a coronavirus, saying it violates their religious freedom.
Two religious leaders and a church visitor filed a lawsuit on Thursday against Little and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen.
The lawsuit targets that Little’s Stay-at-home order is unconstitutional and specifically cites restrictions on religious gatherings. The order ended Thursday and was replaced by one that allowed church meetings, but still needed social distance.
But lawyers said on Friday that the remaining restrictions on the church remained unconstitutional and they planned to ask for a temporary detention order to be lifted.
They also said that they worried that Little could restore the order of living at home if Idaho saw a surge in infections and deaths due to viruses.
“To dictate that we cannot worship by gathering together means we really cannot worship,” said Nathan MacPherson, a lawyer who filed a lawsuit and who also lives in northern Idaho.
He said it was not clear how the lawsuit could affect other types of meetings, such as in the cinema. He said the suit was filed specifically for religious gatherings.
Scott Graf, spokesman for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said his office had no comment.
Wasden said earlier that Little’s stay-at-home order to limit the spread of the corona virus was legal and clearly defined by law. In his release, he also said that the director of the local district Department of Health and Welfare and health had the authority to issue quarantine and isolation orders.
Josh Jones, Michael Gulotta and Scott Herndon filed a lawsuit. Jones is a pastor at Laclede Community Church in Laclede. Gulotta is a pastor at the Christian Reformed Church in Grangeville. Herndon is a Sagle resident who attends church. Herndon failed in 2018 in the Republican premier election to get a seat in the state Senate.
MacPherson said pilgrims would likely respect social distance requirements as a security issue, but the government should not be allowed to dictate these requirements to religious groups. He also took issue with churches that were not considered important under the orders of Little Home.
“How can something that is a fundamental constitutional right not matter?” she says. “It’s just surprising that a government official will make such a difference.”
Idaho had the first coronavirus infection confirmed on March 13, and within three weeks, another 1,000 people had been infected with the virus that spread through a community in central Idaho and a large population in southwestern Idaho. Little responded with an emergency declaration of March 13 and, on March 25, issued statewide residence orders to 1.75 million Idaho residents who also closed down non-essential businesses.
A little on Thursday allows five weeks of staying at home orders to end, and puts Friday the first plan of four stages to recover from economic damage caused by the virus. Each stage lifts the limit as long as there is no second wave of infection.
On Friday, Idaho had more than 2,000 confirmed cases with at least 60 deaths from the virus, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.