To the Editor:

I am thankful that Maine has a governor so dedicated to making sure COVID-19 does not gain a foothold in our state. It is unfortunate that she does not have those around her that care for Maine’s people and Maine’s economy as she issues inconsistent executive orders. What we know about COVID-19 is that to keep this in check, we need to be wise regarding our behavior, especially in regard to social distancing and sanitation. It is sad that our governor thinks that most Mainers are not smart enough to do this, or that we simply don’t care who gets infected. Neither is true.

In these attempts to quell the virus, our governor has shut down the tourism industry in Maine, which account for 20% of the state’s economy. In these attempts to quell the virus, she seems content to put thousands of small businesses in Maine out of business.  This seems true despite the fact that small businesses provide a majority of the employment in our state. The end result will be lasting high unemployment that further drains our already depleted resources.

Furthermore, she is more intent on her power grab than she is on maintaining the rule of law. Rather than treat people of faith fairly and allow churches to reopen in compliance with CDC guidelines as she has with other businesses, she is determined keep the church doors locked in a direct violation of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 3 of the Maine State Constitution. Churches are the one and only types of business that is 100% excluded from the Governor’s reopening plan.  Her plan calls for “drive-in services” from this point forward with no end date. This is flatly unconstitutional.

The Portland Herald was quick to point out that lawsuits such as the one brought against the state by Calvary Chapel have been consistently upheld the constitutionality of the executive orders in place. What they failed to point out is that, as these cases are appealed, that are consistently overturned. Federal district courts understand that you cannot single out churches as Governor Mills has done and you cannot prevent free exercise of religion as Governor Mills has done.

United States Attorney General William Barr explained it this way. “But even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers.  Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity.

For example, if a government allows movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other comparable places of assembly to remain open and unrestricted, it may not order houses of worship to close, limit their congregation size, or otherwise impede religious gatherings.  Religious institutions must not be singled out for special burdens.Yet, this is exactly what Governor Mills has done to Maine churches.

She believes she is on solid legal ground in limiting churches to drive-in services. This is still a limitation of “free exercise.” It also shows that Governor Mills has no concept of church. The word church is, by definition, an assembly of believers.  Sitting in a few cars with the windows rolled up is NOT an assembly. It also shows that Governor Mills believes church leaders are either to stupid to follow CDC  guidelines, to ignorant to understand CDC guidelines, or determined to make the people who attend those churches sick.

It also shows that she does not care what voters think. According to a Rasmussen poll, 35% of registered voters want churches to reopen, which matches the 35% for retail stores. Behind those two come schools at 31%, then bars and restaurants at 21%. In others words, the number one target for reopening, according to the voters, should be churches. The Governor, therefore, obviously, does not care what we think as voters.  Churches need to open their doors, but do it safely, staying with CDC guidelines.

Governor Mills needs to reconsider how she is treating our economy and our churches or be prepared to spend millions of our tax dollars defending lawsuits that would not be needed if she better understood that Mainers are not, stupid, not ignorant, and not uncaring. We are smart enough to comply with the CDC and not so uncaring that we want to see thousands of our friends and neighbor get sick.

So what do you say, Governor Mills. How about a little compassion for the people and common sense for our businesses and our churches?

Dr. Chris Grimbilas

Jay

 

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