Judge Dismisses Lawsuit against Gov. Ralph Northam over COVID-19 Restrictions on Houses of Worship
A judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam for his orders on pandemic restrictions on in-person church services.
U.S. District Court Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen dismissed the claim from Lighthouse Fellowship Church of Chincoteague Island.
The church took issue with Northam’s executive orders in 2020 that limited in-person gatherings, including worship services. According to The Christian Post, Lighthouse Fellowship Church was cited for violations of the order.
In his decision, Allen said the lawsuit was moot because new orders that allowed some in-person worship had replaced the original restrictions.
Allen also said Northam could not be sued because of the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which says, “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.”
In April 2020, Pastor Kevin Wilson, of Lighthouse Fellowship, was cited by police for holding an in-person service on Palm Sunday. About 16 people attended the service.
At the time, Virginia restricted in-person gatherings to no more than 10 people. Violators of the order could face punishment up to a year in jail and a fine up to $2,500.
Wilson sued in response to the citation and in May 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest in support of Lighthouse Fellowship.
In July, the charges were dropped against Wilson after Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of the church and Wilson.
“Governor Ralph Northam has clearly discriminated against Lighthouse Fellowship Church and these criminal charges reflect his blatant unconstitutional actions against Pastor Wilson. We are pleased these charges have now been dropped as we continue to uphold the church’s First Amendment right to exist and freely assemble," Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said in a statement.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Zach Gibson/Stringer
Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.