Four churchmen of Madison County have decided to re-file suit to remove new restrictions placed on the operations of religious services.
A Complaint for Declaratory Relief was previously filed against Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in July as plaintiffs believed the Governor had disregarded their religious liberties and undermined churches. The case was dismissed when an Agreed Order ruled that “religious services of 250 people or fewer are not subject to any mandatory restrictions other than those required by Executive Order Number 63 and Order of Public Health Emergency Five.”
Under the Sixth Amended Executive Order 67, any social gathering may not have more than 25 people, and religious services of more than 25 people must subject to a series of limitations. The updated orders ultimately ignore the previously reached agreement and discourage the religious gathering of large groups of people.
Plaintiff Brian Hermsmeier has been able to work normally as a Licensed Landscape Architect/Project Manager, but has been limited in his ability to serve as a bi-vocational minister and ordained pastor. “I believe it is God’s command to gather together,” he says. “Hebrews 10:25 says to not forsake gathering as a church.”
Hermsmeier also believes the Governor is straying from Virginia law’s history and tradition of protecting religious liberties. “Virginia is known for supporting religious freedom,” he says. The targeting of churches with COVID-19 restrictions tarnishes that reputation.
The new suit requests that churches be able to operate as fully and freely as the exempted categories of operation such as media and all government agencies and “essential” entities have, and that churchgoers be treated fairly in comparison.