RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A man from southwest Virginia hoping to have churches reopen on Easter filed a lawsuit against Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday claiming the governor’s executive orders limiting gatherings of more than 10 people has had “a chilling effect” on his right to religious freedom. On Thursday, a judge denied the man’s temporary injunction to block Northam’s orders.
The suit, filed by Larry Hughes in Russell County, argues Northam’s order violates the Virginia Constitution’s guarantee of the enjoyment of life and liberty. Hughes’ suit also claims Executive Order 55 violates the constitution’s guarantee that people are the source of power in the commonwealth, that laws may not be suspended without the people’s consent and the guarantee of the the free exercise of religion.
The complaint from Hughes, who is described as a professing Christian who regularly attends religious services in the suit, states that Northam’s executive order has left a chilling effect on his right to religious freedom in regards to the 10-person limit.
Hughes’ suit argues Virginia cannot mandate the limit “when so many other secular activities are permitted conditioned only on complying with social distancing guidelines.” The lawsuit called on a temporary restraining order to be issued, until the case can be heard, ahead of Easter Sunday.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring defended Northam’s executive orders Tuesday in an attached brief that asked for Hughes’ request for an injunction to be denied. On Thursday, Russell Circuit Court Judge Michael Moore denied Hughes request during a hearing over the phone.
“The equities do not weigh in [petitioner’s] favor based on this pandemic. And to say that this injunction to be granted would be in the public interest is not defensible,” Moore said when denying the injunction. “So the court is going to deny the request for temporary injunction.”
Herring released a statement on Moore’s ruling to deny the temporary injunction to block Northam’s executive orders.
“I’m really pleased we were able to successfully defend Governor Northam’s Executive Orders. Science tells us that social distancing is the most important thing we can do to save lives and prevent the spread of COVID-19, and that’s exactly what these orders are doing,” Herring said Thursday. “We are all having to sacrifice right now to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities safe and our win today maintains these crucial safety measures.”
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