Dear Governor Brown:
I respectfully request that you rescind Executive Order 20-07 as applied to churches and other houses of worship. Order 20-07 has barred “spiritual gatherings” and “faith-based” events “of 25 people or more” through April 14, 2020. The Oregon Health Authority has made clear that this includes worship services. If Order 20-07 is not rescinded or modified, my family and I will be barred from freely attending worship services during Holy Week and on Easter Sunday.
But Order 20-07 does not apply to “essential ... services” which include “grocery stores, retail stores, [and] convenience stores.” Thus, worship services are not “essential services.” For many thousands of Oregonians, including my own family, worship services in good times and in times of stress, illness, and economic uncertainty are essential services. Pastors and other religious leaders are inestimable sources of comfort, counsel, and support for members of their particular religious groups and the community at large. Religious leaders have a unique ability to minister to our fears and anxieties that many government officers, first responders, and health care workers simply don’t have. Religious leaders recognize that man shall not live by bread alone, and that spiritual food is as essential to life as stocked shelves at Safeway.
Worship services are essential services, and the Constitutions of Oregon and the United States both bar the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion. The First Amendment protects the people from government action that targets religious conduct (such as worship) for distinctive treatment, even if the action appears facially neutral. Order 20-07 is specifically aimed at worship services, and relegates the God-given right to freely attend worship services to a class of leisure activities such as fairs, festivals, concerts, and civic, community, and sporting events. Spiritual gatherings and worship services are not in the same class as baseball games, the state fair, or concerts. The free exercise of religion is a fundamental right, one that is necessary and provides essential services to the life and health of our people.
Order 20-07 has arbitrarily restricted the free exercise of religion to gatherings of 25 or less people, while those same individuals freely gather (in far larger numbers) at Home Depot, Walmart, and Safeway, without any fear of arrest or interference by the authorities. Order 20-07 is constitutionally suspect because it does not bar other analogous nonreligious conduct (large gatherings), and indeed specifically exempts other gatherings of far more than 25 people.
I respectfully request that you rescind Executive Order 20-07 as applied to churches and spiritual gatherings. Finally, know that we have been praying for you as our Governor.