Sidley secured a major policy change from Minnesota officials to allow houses of worship to reopen on the same terms as businesses as the state relaxes its COVID-19 shutdown orders. Sidley represented Minnesota Catholic and Lutheran leaders whose churches could not hold services with more than 10 people under the previous policy, even though businesses including restaurants, bars, and shopping malls were permitted to reopen. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Sidley team and co counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Minnesotans will be able to attend public worship services for the first time in nearly 10 weeks, as long as they observe the same physical-distance and hygiene requirements that apply in other public places. Minnesota Governor, Tim Walz, signed an executive order today reflecting the terms of the settlement.
The victory came just three days after Sidley and Becket wrote a letter to Governor Walz on behalf of the churches, urging him to reconsider the state’s unconstitutional restrictions on religious gatherings, which were far harsher than the restrictions imposed on commercial activity. “This unequal and unfair treatment violates the Churches’ cherished constitutional freedoms,” the letter said, “and, more importantly, hobbles unconscionably their pastoral mission.” A Wall Street Journal editorial about the letter observed that “[i]t’s hard to see how under any reading of the First Amendment the Mall of America can be allowed to reopen while churches must keep their doors closed to all but a handful.”
The Sidley team working on behalf of Minnesota’s Catholic and Lutheran leaders included Mark Hopson, Gordon Todd, Dino LaVerghetta, Lucas Croslow, Christopher Ross, James Hasson, and Brooke Boyd, all in Washington, D.C.