Churches Sue Michigan's Whitmer, Alleging Lockdown Is Violating First Amendment

Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer / Getty Images
May 8, 2020

A group of Michigan churches are taking legal action against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D.), alleging the governor's stay-at-home order violates First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit argues that the executive order prohibiting gatherings of two or more people who are not part of the same household, including at religious services, violates the religious expression rights of Michigan citizens.

Whitmer's order exempts religious institutions and their owners from legal penalty for holding services, but it does not exempt individuals who attempt to participate in person from penalties, according to the suit.

The churches in the state sought to hold in-person ceremonies beginning in May that involve deep-cleanings before and after the services, advising attendees to distance themselves and not make physical contact with one another, limiting the number of attendees, and offering the option to livestream services from home.

The suit asks the court to issue a permanent injunction against the order.

"Plaintiffs are entitled to a declaratory ruling and injunctive relief to protect their constitutional and statutory rights to meet and otherwise freely exercise their religious conscience," the suit reads. 

Whitmer unilaterally took action at the end of April to extend the state of the emergency and state of disaster until May 28, despite resistance from the state legislature.

Michigan is the latest state to see citizens taking legal action against lockdown orders. Two Wisconsin residents filed a lawsuit against their state's order, claiming it overreached and needlessly infringed on their constitutional rights to gather and worship. A religious law firm also filed a lawsuit against Kentucky governor Andy Beshear seeking to exempt religious gatherings from his stay-at-home order.

Whitmer's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Whitmer is also facing a potential investigation after she awarded a coronavirus-related contract to a Democratic consulting firm. She rescinded the contract and pledged to cooperate with investigators before walking back her pledge to be transparent during the investigation.