Per BakerCityHerald, Baker County Circuit Court Judge Matt Shirtcliff on Monday declared that all executive orders Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has issued related to the coronavirus pandemic are “null and void.”
Brown has exceeded her authority by restricting activities, including church services and business operations, for longer than the 28 days the governor is authorized under a state law related to public health emergencies, Shirtcliff said.
The judge granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the more than 10 executive orders the governor has issued since March 8.
Shirtcliff’s decision applies to the entire state. He ruled on the motions because the lawsuit challenging the duration of the governor’s legal authority was filed May 6 in Baker County Circuit Court.
Elkhorn Baptist Church of Baker City is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, which was filed by Salem attorney Ray Hacke of the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit that defends religious liberty.
Bill Harvey, chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners, filed as an intervenor-plaintiff in the case as an individual rather than in his capacity as an elected official.
Yahoo reports a judge in rural Oregon on Monday tossed out statewide coronavirus restrictions imposed by Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, saying she didn’t seek the Legislature’s approval to extend the stay-at-home orders beyond a 28-day limit.
Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff issued his opinion in response to a lawsuit filed earlier this month by 10 churches around Oregon that argued the state’s social-distancing directives were unconstitutional.
Brown filed paperwork within hours seeking an emergency review by the Oregon Supreme Court and a hold on the ruling until the high court could take it up. Her attorneys had asked the judge to stay his ruling until that time, but he declined.
In a statement, Brown said: “The science behind these executive orders hasn’t changed one bit. Ongoing physical distancing, staying home as much as possible, and wearing face coverings will save lives across Oregon.”
Scott Erickson, chief pastor of one of the churches behind the lawsuit, is waiting to see what the Supreme Court does before making any move to open the doors. Currently, his Peoples Church in Salem, Oregon, has drive-in church, with worshippers tuning in service on their radios from the parking lot, and livestreaming.
“We’re going to wait until there’s finality,” he said in a phone interview.
If the judge’s ruling stands, Erickson’s church, which 3,700 people normally attend regularly, will change its ways, the pastor said. It will adhere to 6-foot (2-meter) distancing, every other row would be empty and anything that people touch, like chairs and pews, will be wiped down before each service. Masks would be optional.
“It would certainly impact our capacity, but that’s where we’re at on this,” Erickson said.
In a seven-page opinion, Shirtcliff wrote that the damage to Oregonians and their livelihood was greater than the dangers presented by the coronavirus. He also noted that other businesses deemed essential, such as grocery stores, had been allowed to remain open even with large numbers of people present and have relied on masks, social distancing and other measures to protect the public.
“The governor’s orders are not required for public safety when plaintiffs can continue to utilize social distancing and safety protocols at larger gatherings involving spiritual worship,” he wrote.
Courts in other states have ruled against similar orders. The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order last week, ruling that his administration overstepped its authority when it extended the order for another month without consulting legislators.
A federal judge in North Carolina on Saturday sided with conservative Christian leaders and blocked the enforcement of restrictions that Gov. Roy Cooper ordered affecting indoor religious services during the pandemic.
The order from Judge James C. Dever III came days after two churches, a minister and a Christian revival group filed a federal lawsuit seeking to immediately block enforcement of rules covering religious services within the Democratic governor’s executive orders.