By Zach Armstrong
A religious discrimation lawsuit brought by Madison County christians was settled Sept. 22 by an agreed order that was submitted to a Circuit Court Judge declaring that churches which have less than 250 attendees don’t apply to Gov. Ralph Northam’s COVID-19 orders.
Under the order, religious services of 250 or fewer people are no longer subject to mandatory restrictions except for face coverings and a requirement of six feet of distance at religious services excluding family members.
Gov. Northam’s attorneys along with four Madison County churchmen who sued him submitted the agreed order to Madison County Circuit Court Judge David B. Franzén. Madison County church members Brian Hermsmeier, Joe Sansone, Culpeper attorney Mike Sharman and Charlie Sheads were plaintiffs in the case.
The plaintiffs who filed suit against Gov. Northam claimed that the Governor’s orders disproportionately put more limitations upon churches and churchgoers than other secular categories of operation in the commonwealth.
According to the plaintiff’s complaint, The Virginia Constitution, Virginia’s Bill of Rights, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and other provisions of the Code of Virginia were violated by the governor’s COVID restrictions on churches.
Section 16 of Virginia’s Bill of Rights mentions our “duty to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.” said Plaintiff Joe Sansone, a private business owner and church attendee. “Arbitrary restrictions on church attendance limit my ability to practice these articles of my faith.”
Previous executive orders issued by Gov. Northam effectively had closed many churches demanding churches close if it’s attendees couldn’t comply with all of the restrictions. Church attendance had initially been limited to 50% capacity and no more than 10 people.
“We as a church can come together and decide if we want to restrict ourselves, but the government cannot step in and do it for us.” said Charlie Sheads, a master mechanic and church musician.
Public or private gatherings larger than 250 people are still barred in Virginia under the governor’s orders.