Even though the First Circuit Court of Appeals decided Calvary Chapel of Bangor v. Governor Janet Mills was moot, the U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled that discriminatory restrictions on churches and places of worship are unconstitutional. As a result, there is not an urgency for Liberty Counsel to appeal this case to the High Court.
The Supreme Court has granted relief for churches at least 10 times, two of which involved Liberty Counsel’s case of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry.
Representing churches during the COVID lockdowns, Liberty Counsel won at the U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 in December 2020 and 6-3 in February 2021. After striking down California’s unconstitutional restrictions, Maine became the most restrictive state in the nation respecting churches. Following the February win at the High Court, Liberty Counsel obtained a statewide injunction against California Governor Newsom in April 2021 for which the state had to pay $1.35 million.
The handwriting was therefore on the wall that Maine’s discriminatory restrictions would soon fall. Therefore, Maine’s Governor Janet Mills lifted the restrictions on all capacity limits in public indoor venues earlier than she planned on May 24, 2021. On appeal, counsel for Governor Mills admitted that if the governor tried to implement the same restrictions again, she would violate the High Court’s orders.
When Calvary Chapel filed its lawsuit in May 2020, the governor’s orders permitted no religious gatherings, including parking lot services, and violations carried criminal penalties of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Then Governor Mills changed the restrictions to a 50-person numerical cap notwithstanding the size of the facility. However, Mills “allowed” churches to hold secular gatherings to feed, shelter and provide social services and counsel to an unlimited number of people without restrictions or threat of criminal sanctions. After Liberty Counsel filed suit, she said at some point in the future she would allow very limited worship, but only after churches applied to re-open, were approved, and displayed a badge on the building.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Our nationwide litigation on behalf of churches and places of worship resulted in multiple wins at the U.S. Supreme Court. These wins caused the restrictions to fall like dominoes. Liberty Counsel’s victories at the Supreme Court on behalf of places of worship forced Governor Janet Mills to remove her restrictions. Churches in Maine and nationwide are free. Our litigation success has guaranteed that churches will never face these discriminatory restrictions again.”