May 21, 2020—Today, the Center for American Liberty, in coordination with Mandelbaum Salsburg and Dhillon Law Group, sued Governor Murphy for unconstitutionally shutting down houses of worship statewide.
On March 21, 2020, Governor Murphy ordered “non-essential” businesses in the state to close; houses of worship are considered “non-essential” in New Jersey.
On March 24, 2020, Governor Murphy signed an order allowing five types of retail business to reopen, including: retail businesses, mobile phone retailers, bicycles shops, nurseries, and garden stores.
On March 31, 2020, Governor Murphy declared firearm retailers as “essential,” by appointment during limited hours.
On April 8, 2020, Governor Murphy ordered non-essential construction to stop, but made exceptions for hospitals, schools, and affordable housing.
On April 27, 2020, Governor Murphy unveiled a six-point coronavirus “Road Back” recovery plan centered on widespread testing and contact tracing which did not include any timetable for implementation.
To date, no exemptions have been made for religious gatherings, and there is no end in sight for their unconstitutional shutdown.
“Governor Murphy continues to make special rules for special interest groups, while unconstitutionally discriminates against the faith community. His Order permits New Jerseyans to go to a long list of secular institutions, but they are prohibited from attending their church, synagogues, gurdwaras, mandirs, temples, mosques, and other houses of worship,” said Harmeet K. Dhillon, Chief Executive Officer of the Center for American Liberty. “Criminalizing religious expression is really the antithesis of the First Amendment. There is no rational basis for allowing social distanced attendance in secular institutions, but not in religious institutions.”
“Our clients are doing amazing humanitarian work in their communities. As an outpouring of their faith, they are running addiction recovery programs, AA meetings, they are delivering food to the hungry, running literacy programs for children…even sponsoring orphanages internationally. One of the churches that we represent is even building a house for lepers in India where they can receive medical treatment. When Governor Murphy shut down New Jersey churches, he didn’t just shut down Sunday morning services, he shut down all of these wonderful ministries that are meeting the physical needs in their communities. It is hard to imagine that the Governor’s Order furthers public health when it shuts down food pantries and addiction recovery programs,” explained Dhillon.
“New Jersey cannot continue to treat houses of worship as an afterthought. To millions of New Jerseyans they are at least as essential as big-box outlets, beaches, and liquor stores. Summer begins unofficially today, but the long-overdue relaxation of lockdown restrictions in New Jersey has left religious gatherings out in the cold. So today, on behalf of multiple New Jersey congregations and clergy, we filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s orders that discriminate against the faith community,” said Roseland lawyer Ronald Coleman. “All New Jerseyans have a constitutional right to worship together, and there is no reason they cannot do so safely. No one should have to choose between obeying God and obeying Trenton.”