Salem, OR – A battle is raging in the Oregon courts over whether Governor Kate Brown’s stay-at-home order extension until July 6 was legal.
Ten Oregon churches sued the governor on the grounds that her extended stay-at-home order limiting social gatherings to 25 people violated their Constitutional right to hold worship services, The Oregonian reported.
The lawsuit, which was filed by the Pacific Justice Institute on behalf of the churches and 21 individuals, claimed that such an executive order was no longer justified.
Brown initially declared a statewide state of emergency on March 8 and has since issued multiple executive orders shuttering schools, non-essential businesses, and dine-in service at restaurants and bars, KOMO reported.
She extended the order in early May for another 60 days, through July 6.
The lawsuit against the order was filed because the churches are finished with “having their rights trampled on with no end in sight,’’ the plaintiffs’ attorney, Ray D. Hacke, told The Oregonian.
On Monday, Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff ruled that the governor erred by not asking for the Oregon legislature’s approval to extend the stay-at-home order beyond the 28-day limit in the public health statute Brown used to issue her executive order, KOMO reported.
Shirtcliff wrote in a seven-page opinion that the damage to residents’ livelihoods was greater than the danger presented by the coronavirus.
He noted that essential business were open with large numbers of people utilizing them, and had been utilizing social distancing and masks, KOMO reported.
“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,” the judge wrote.
Brown’s attorneys asked Shirtcliff to stay his ruling until a higher court could rule on the matter, but the judge refused and overruled blocked the extension of the stay at home order, KOMO reported.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum asked residents to continue to abide by Brown’s order while the state appealed Shirtcliff’s ruling.
“We will argue that the judge erred in his construction of the relevant statutes and that he abused his discretion in issuing the preliminary injunction,” Rosenblum said in a statement. “We will also be asking for an immediate stay of his order.”
The governor’s office filed paperwork for an emergency review by the Oregon Supreme Court on May 18 and late Monday night, the state’s highest court issued a halt to the cancellation of Brown’s stay-at-home order pending review by all of the high court’s justices, the Associated Press reported.
“There are no shortcuts for us to return to life as it was before this pandemic. Moving too quickly could return Oregon to the early days of this crisis, when we braced ourselves for hospitals to be overfilled,” Brown said in a statement praising the court’s injunction.