Religious ministry files lawsuit against state for ban on large gatherings

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DENVER (KDVR) — In Woodland Park this week, there are hundreds of people attending a conference where a COVID outbreak took place this summer.

That ministry group, Andrew Wommack Ministries (AWM) is now suing the state. It contends Colorado’s rule limiting gatherings at religious buildings is unconstitutional.

AWM says it feels like it’s being singled out by the state and is now suing to hold large gatherings. 

The controversy centers on the number of people that should be allowed in church buildings like the Charis Bible College in Woodland Park. 

This week as many as 600 people are attending a minister’s conference there. The event is being sponsored by is AWM, which says the guidelines limiting attendees to 175 is unconstitutional. 

“The governor’s orders actually discriminate inside the church and outside the facility and that distinction is given to non-religious meetings over religious gatherings,” Liberty Counsel Founder Mat Staver, who is representing the ministry, said.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says there was a COVID-19 outbreak at the campus after another large event back in July. Before the Summer Family Bible Conference, Charis Bible College filed a Social Distancing and Safety Plan. But Staver says there’s no way to prove the event was responsible for the positive cases.

“There’s simply no way to trace the origin of a person-to-person pathogen, including COVID, and that’s stated unequivocally by the state of Colorado,” said Staver. 

In a lawsuit the AWM pointed to protests like those at the Capitol in June. Thousands of people gathered, the legal brief pointed out, in violation of the Governor’s orders “without threat of criminal sanction.”

The group also says it feels people can gather in casinos with more freedom than in churches. 
The governor fired back saying large gatherings must be prohibited to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

At a scheduled news conference to update the state on COVID-19, Gov. Jared Polis said, “People should avoid super-spreader events, whether those are commercial or faith-based. Whatever those super-spreader events are, the virus doesn’t care — whether you are singing hymns or watching a football game or having a barbecue. If you have 50 or 300 people in close proximity without masks, you are risking a super spreader event that will cost lives and set our entire state back.”

AWM provided a seating chart saying it has plenty of room to social distance and is doing so. But now, it will be up to court to decide if the ministry should be granted permission to have large gathering.

AWM lost its first two rounds in preliminary state and federal hearings trying to get permission to hold large gatherings. The group is now waiting for a final hearing to argue why it feels its constitutional rights are being violated.

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