Federal court dismisses Va. church suit that opposed state’s biased rules on gatherings

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam gestures during a Covid-19 briefing at the Capitol in Richmond, Va, Wednesday Nov 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

A Virginia church that stood up to Gov. Ralph Northam over COVID restrictions and closures has been slapped down, having its federal lawsuit dismissed, reports WAVY.

Lighthouse Fellowship Church in Chincoteague filed the lawsuit in April of 2020, requesting that a federal court prevent Northam and “his designees” from “unconstitutionally enforcing and applying the various” executive orders of Northam that adversely affected the church.

The governor has issued various executive orders since the COVID-19 pandemic came to Virginia. Some have closed schools, prevented some government-deemed “non-essential” businesses from operations, and commanded Virginians to stay at home unless they are on “essential” business.

The church was critical of the orders in its motion, saying it was kept from gathering regardless of whether Lighthouse Fellowship Church met or exceeded social distancing, enhanced sanitation, and hygiene requirements. Other commercial businesses, it stated, like liquor stores, “big box” and “supercenter” stores — were allowed to stay open and operate under those same guidelines.

The court documents can be seen here.

A federal court dismissed the case on Feb. 1 following a request from Northam. Court documents stated that the church failed to present any other state statute, constitutional provision, or Virginia Supreme Court case establishing that the Commonwealth waives immunity from suit in federal court for alleged violations of the Virginia Religious Freedom Act. The court also ruled that Northam is immune under the Eleventh Amendment to the plaintiff’s state statutory and state constitutional claims.

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