For Immediate Release:
Monday, January 8, 2023
For More Information, Contact:
Matt Revel: 302-744-4085
Joe Fulgham: 302-744-4184
Delaware’s Republican state representatives and senators are lending their support to a lawsuit defending citizens’ right to worship freely.
All 21 of the General Assembly’s Republican lawmakers signed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in a case filed against Gov. John Carney that contends he violated federal and state constitutional guarantees* for citizens to worship freely.
The lawsuit was originally filed on December 1, 2021 in the Court of Chancery and was later transferred to the Superior Court, which ruled against plaintiffs Pastor Alan Hines (Townsend Free Will Baptist Church) and Reverend David W. Landow (Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church). The case is being appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court, noting the Superior Court’s dismissal did not address the issue of whether the governor has the authority to revoke citizens’ constitutional rights under his emergency powers.
The lawsuit specifies that between March 22 and June 2, 2020, the governor issued several emergency orders and restrictions intended to limit the spread of COVID-19. These directives restricted activities in houses of worship, often in ways that were arbitrary and more severe than restrictions placed on “essential businesses” – which included houses of worship – and which remained open to the public during the pandemic.
The governor’s tenth modification of his emergency order limited houses of worship to gatherings of no more than ten people for in-person services. “Out of the 237 categories of essential businesses that the State of Delaware identified, only houses of worship were subject to this ten-person restriction,” the lawsuit states. Other essential businesses were only limited to twenty percent of their venue’s rated capacity.
Article I of the Delaware State Constitution bars the governor (magistrate) from having any authority to control or interfere with the free exercise of religious worship.
The governor’s lawyers argue the state’s Emergency Management Act grants the chief executive broad discretionary authority to issue orders, proclamations and regulations he or she “reasonably believes necessary to help maintain life, health, property or public peace” and that Gov. Carney’s actions during the COVID outbreak did not violate established legal standards at the time the decisions were made.
In the amicus curiae brief, Republican lawmakers counter that if one branch of government is allowed to ignore constitutional protections, it undermines the integrity of the entire Delaware Code. “If the constitution can be disregarded, so also can lesser statutory laws,” the document states.
State Rep. Tim Dukes (R-Laurel), who is also a practicing pastor, says he can appreciate the challenges posed during an emergency situation and need to safeguard citizens. “Dealing with an emergency, especially in the unique circumstances we faced during the pandemic, is undeniably difficult,” he said. “However, protecting the public’s welfare also means defending their constitutional right to worship, to maintain their relationship with God, and to receive the emotional, psychological, and spiritual support of their church community and their clergy. These activities are fundamental to all aspects of our well-being.”
“Religious worship is protected from government interference by the First Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights and Article I of the Delaware Constitution,” said Sen. Bryant Richardson (R-Laurel). “There is a reason it’s the first item mentioned in both documents. It is a cornerstone to our American identity, tracing its roots back more than 400 years to the founding of the Plymouth Colony. No one person, regardless of their intentions, should have the authority to unilaterally revoke this inalienable, sacred right.”
* First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 1 of the Delaware Constitution.