Va. man sues governor over order that limits church services to no more than 10 people

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Gov. Ralph Northam headed to the podium for his briefing inside Patrick Henry Building in Richmond on Monday

Rather than recommending that churches limit their gatherings, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam went along with many other governors and prohibited them. Now he’s getting sued.

A Russell County, Va. man says Northam’s executive orders limiting religious services to no more than 10 people violate the state Constitution, the Culpeper Star-Exponent reports.

Larry Hughes filed the suit April 6 in Russell County Circuit Court. He seeks an injunction that would let churches and faith communities hold group assemblies without restriction. Northam has barred groups of 10 or more from meeting in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed 75 people in the commonwealth, according to the state health department.

In his lawsuit, Hughes says that Northam’s executive orders have a “chilling effect” on religious freedom.

“[Hughes] will not know the number of participants that may be at a service until he arrives,” the lawsuit reads. “Even the pastor of a church may fear numerical non-compliance and simply close the doors to avoid turning out participants during service if the number suddenly exceeds the permissible limit.”

Attorney General Mark Herring defended Northam, saying in a brief filed Tuesday: “As a person of faith, the Governor recognized that the temporary gatherings restriction would be particularly hard on religious communities … the Governor has issued guidance designed to help faith communities maintain their communion and worked with religious leaders to find creative solutions, including online and drive-in services.”

A spokeswoman for Northam did not immediately return a request for comment.

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