By Dillon Thomas

AULT, Colo. (CBS4) – The pastor of a small church in Northern Colorado has sued Gov. Jared Polis in an effort to welcome more people in to his building. High Plains Harvest Church Pastor Mark Hotaling told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas he hoped the 22-page federal lawsuit would force the governor to allow places of worship to welcome more in their congregation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hotaling said he feels the state is holding places of worship to stricter guidelines than both local and federal rules.

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“Scripture says we are to submit to the governing authorities above us. One of those authorities is the constitution,” Hotaling said. “It is time to open up.”

According to Hotaling, his building can host upwards of 150 people. However, Polis’ order only allows him to welcome 50 people.

“The goal is simply to open the church. God’s word tells us we are supposed to greet one another, we are supposed to gather,” Hotaling said. “Houses of worship should be able to freely exercise under the First Amendment their religion. We are being prohibited in doing that right now.”

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High Plains Harvest Church Pastor Mark Hotaling

Pastor Mark Hotaling (credit: CBS)

Hotaling said he was disheartened to see businesses allowed to welcome more people than his church could.

“It is a religious liberties issue. You can go to Lowe’s or Home Depot, and hundreds of people are buying lumber and gardening supplies,” Hotaling said. “It is time for the church to have the same freedom that a big box store has.”

Hotaling said his church, and many others, are prepared to offer social distancing, sanitization and mask wearing rules. Though, as Hotaling pointed out, masks are not required in Weld County.

“We are going to social distance. We’ve already purchased commercial masks, if anyone wants them. We have gobs and gobs of hand sanitizer,” Hotaling said. “Our heart is the church. We want people to be safe and protected.”

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CBS4 reached out to Polis for comment on the matter. A spokesperson for the governor said they would not comment on pending litigation.

Dillon Thomas