DENVER (CBS4) – In what was called a victory for religious freedom, a federal court judge’s decision Thursday means congregants at Colorado churches will no longer be required to wear masks or limit their numbers as required by the governor of Colorado’s COVID-19 mandates.
The pastors of two Colorado churches — Bob Enyart of Denver Bible Church in Wheat Ridge and Joey Rhoads of Community Baptist Church in Brighton – filed the lawsuit in August.
“The lawsuit,” said Special Counsel Rebecca Messall, one of the Thomas More Society attorneys representing the Colorado pastors, “calls both the federal government and Colorado leaders into account for their violations of the right to free exercise of religion, among other abuses of power, primarily resulting from Gov. Jared Polis’ COVID-19 related Executive Orders.”
The battle is not over, however.
A spokesperson from the governor’s office on Thursday said there would be no comment on the case but called it “pending litigation.” She indicated the state’s Attorney General filed an emergency motion for an injunction on Monday to keep the orders in place.
The state plans to appeal the federal judge’s decision.
Polis issued a statewide mask mandate on July 16 after what he called a “significant uptick” in the number of cases. It required everyone in the state who is age 11 and older to wear a mask whenever they were in public and indoors. The only exemptions were medical ones.
In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel D. Domenico stated, “…the Constitution does not allow the State to tell a congregation how large it can be when comparable secular gatherings are not so limited, or to tell a congregation that its reason for wishing to remove facial coverings is less important than a restaurant’s or spa’s.”
Bob Enyart of Denver Bible Church said he was mildly optimistic before the judge’s order.
“It’s like ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’,” Enyart told CBS4. “If it was a true emergency, people would be inclined to ignore government orders because of government’s overreach. There’s so much evidence coming out that the lockdown is hurting people.”
“We hope other churches will follow along.”
In their own words, the churches’ attorneys argued that “Colorado imposes capacity limits on houses of worship that are more severe than those that apply to other so-called critical businesses whose settings pose a similar risk of COVID-19 transmission. The state also allows a variety of exceptions to its facial-covering requirement where it recognizes that removing a mask is necessary to carry out a particular activity.”