Priest sues governor over coronavirus executive order banning religious gatherings

Posted May 02, 2020

A North Jersey priest has sued Gov. Phil Murphy over Executive Order 107, which was issued in late March and banned social gatherings of any size in the state including religious gatherings to help stop the spread of the coronavirus; saying that the order was unconstitutional.

The Rev. Kevin Robinson, of St. Anthony of Padua Church in North Caldwell, filed the complaint Thursday in U.S. District Court in Newark.

The lawsuit alleged that the order violates the First and Fourteenth amendments.

Murphy’s order also stated that when in public, people must practice social distancing by staying at least six feet apart from others, except “immediate family members, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners,” the order stated.

However, Robinson said his church can practice the same type of social distancing used in commercial businesses that were deemed essential by Murphy and stated that his congregation’s Mass typically numbers around 50, the same number that was permitted in Executive Order 104 which was eventually superseded by 107.

The priest was threatened by a local police officer with arrest the day before Murphy’s order went into effect, the lawsuit alleged.

“The officer was verbally aggressive, repeatedly stating that the Mass could not proceed because of the Governor’s order, thus making it clear that (Robinson) was subject to arrest while the members of his congregation were cowering in the basement in fear,” the lawsuit stated. “Only when the officer was informed by the local police chief via cell phone that Order 107 was not effective until the following day was his implicit threat of arrest withdrawn.”

The lawsuit seeks a judge’s injunction that would stop the state from not allowing him to hold religious services and the priest also wants Executive Order 107 to be deemed unconstitutional.

As an alternative, the priest was looking for the 50-person limitation in Executive Order 104 to be put back into place for religious gatherings with the same social distancing mandates in Order 107.

Robinson said he was looking to hold Mass on Sunday and wanted a temporary restraining order issued immediately so he could do so.

A spokesperson for the governor had no comment on Saturday evening.

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