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Legacy Church, Inc. v. Kunkel (U.S. District Court – District of New Mexico, April 17, 2020): A district court held a church failed to demonstrate that the 1st Amendment’s free exercise clause and right to freedom of assembly were violated by the New Mexico Department of Health’s emergency order limiting mass gatherings. The church sought a temporary restraining order against enforcement of a ban on mass gatherings (of five people or more) to accommodate 30 staff in the church to produce live-stream services. Prior to the order, places of worship were exempt from gathering restrictions placed on nonessential business. The church argued they should at minimum be allowed to operate at 20% capacity—the same restriction placed on essential businesses. Although the order removed the exemption for places of worship, the court found it is neutral and generally applicable to all nonessential businesses, with no evidence of antipathy against religion or Christianity. Mitigating the spread of COVID-19 is a legitimate state interest. The order is narrowly tailored with ample alternatives. Legacy can conduct services remotely without any risks to others. The court also held the order is a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction on the right to assemble. Read the decision here.

View all cases in the Judicial Trends in Public Health – May 1, 2020.

View all cases under “Public Health Emergency: Legal Preparedness & Response.”