Walz loses in court, settles with churches

For the first time since invoking emergency orders, Gov. Tim Walz lost a court battle challenging his emergency powers, specifically his orders limiting church worship services, treating them differently than grocery stores, retail outlets and sports venues. The Upper Midwest Law Center (UMWLC) prevailed in federal court this week on behalf of Northland Baptist Church and Living Word Christian Center against the state’s motion to dismiss the case on March 30, 2021. After losing their motion to dismiss, Attorney General Keith Ellison and Walz decided to settle the case, meaning current and future emergency orders can no longer discriminate against churches on capacity limits.

Acting as our benevolent leader, Walz will likely announce later today that churches will be allowed to open to full capacity because his administration has made so much progress on vaccinations and mitigation efforts. But make no mistake about it — any relaxation of church capacity is court ordered.

Here is the full UWMLC press release:

UMLC’s Church Clients Obtain Legal Settlement From Walz

Administration Prohibiting Any Different Treatment Of Minnesota

Houses Of Worship In Any COVID-19 “Emergency” Orders

(Golden Valley, MN) On May 5, 2021, Governor Walz and Attorney General Ellison agreed to settle the claims of Northland Baptist Church and Living Word Christian Center in the Upper Midwest Law Center’s (UMLC) lawsuit against the discriminatory treatment of churches and other houses of worship by promising that any “Emergency” COVID Orders would treat all houses of worship the same as grocery and retail outlets, sports and entertainment venues.

This significant constitutional victory was made possible when Federal Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright sustained the claims of Northland Baptist Church and Living Word Christian Center against the State’s motion to dismiss on March 30, 2021. This meant that the case would proceed to discovery and trial, with the State’s COVID Orders subject to the strictest scrutiny by the Court. The Administration knew they could not prevail in that trial, while UMLC looked forward to winning the lawsuit. This settlement was the result.

UMLC President, Doug Seaton, stated that: “One very noteworthy feature of this settlement is that it followed the first decision by any court to reject Governor Walz and Attorney General Ellison’s defense of their Orders. No other Minnesota plaintiff has been successful in defeating the Attorney General’s motions to dismiss on these claims, even in part. This decision and now the settlement will protect Minnesotans of faith and, we hope, in the end, Minnesota business owners as well, from the oppressive government action represented by the discriminatory and irrational elements of the Emergency Orders.”

The settlement also preserves the right of appeal by UMLC’s business plaintiffs in this case. Judge Wright dismissed their claims, but the settlement provides for our appeal of the denial of these equal protection and takings claims to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which we believe will reinstate these claims, too.

Commenting on the decision and settlement, Pastor John Bruski of Northland Baptist Church, said: “I am relieved that, finally, the federal court has validated our claims and denied the efforts of the Governor and Attorney General to prevent us from proving that these Emergency Orders are unconstitutional infringements on our rights to assemble and worship. The settlement represents a vindication of the Constitutional rights of all churches and other houses of worship.”

UMLC Senior Trial Counsel, James V. F. Dickey, added that: “All Minnesotans should be encouraged that their religious freedoms are protected by the U.S. Constitution and that there is no ‘pandemic exception’ to the First Amendment allowing our state officials to prevent them from assembling and worshipping free of discriminatory and irrational restrictions. Following appeal, we believe that UMLC ‘s business clients will also be free of these government abuses.”

About Upper Midwest Law Center

Upper Midwest Law Center is a non-profit, public interest law firm with the mission to initiate pro-freedom litigation to protect against constitutional violations, government overreach, special interest agendas and public union corruption and abuses. UMLC is a 501(c)(3) organization.

To learn more about Upper Midwest Law Center, click here.