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Delaware churches sue for worship protections

Churches seek safeguards against future pandemic restrictions

Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Del. Facebook/Emmanuel Presbyterian Church

Delaware churches sue for worship protections

Worship gathering bans imposed during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic have largely ended. But two churches in Delaware are suing their state governor in hopes of preventing future restrictions in the event a new virus or variant again spurs lockdowns.

David Landow, pastor of Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church, filed a 94-page complaint on Wednesday asking for a court order blocking any future shutdown restrictions on worship as well as any attempt to interfere with church preaching and teaching or prohibit singing or the celebration of sacraments. He also sought damages for the effect of past restrictions. Alan Hines, pastor of Townsend Free Will Baptist Church, filed a virtually identical complaint.

In both lawsuits, attorneys argue the Delaware Constitution is more protective of religious liberty than even the free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution. Article 1, Section 1 of the Delaware Constitution provides that “no power shall or ought to be vested in or assumed by any magistrate that shall in any case interfere with, or in any manner control the rights of conscience, in the free exercise of religious worship.”

Wilmington, Del., attorney Thomas Crumplar also points to the prologue of the state’s constitution. “The prologue begins with the duty of all mankind to assemble to worship their god. So it has been a preeminent protection of the Delaware Constitution, religious liberty,” Crumplar told WDEL.com. “But somehow, that was forgotten during this pandemic.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has already placed limits on pandemic-related worship bans, and many state legislatures, weary of long-running executive edicts curbing religious and other freedoms, have rolled back governors’ and other executive officials’ emergency powers. A Kaiser Health News review of legislation in September found that at least 26 Republican-led states have passed curbs on public health powers. Some of these laws limit governors’ and health officials’ ability to impose mask mandates, require vaccinations, and quarantine and isolate individuals.

Some critics say this impedes states’ ability to react quickly to dire public health emergencies. But proponents such as Republican Arkansas state Sen. Trent Garner point to the importance of keeping power close to the people.

“What the people of Arkansas want is the decision to be left in their hands, to them and their family,” said Garner.

Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C.



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