Minnesota Churches Aren't Asking the Governor for Permission To Reopen

If the Mall of America can reopen on June 1, why can’t the Cathedral of St. Paul?


Some Minnesota churches have noticed their absence in Gov. Tim Walz's reopening plans and are taking matters into their own hands. Catholic and Lutheran leaders will allow churches in the state to start holding services in person starting May 26, even though Walz's reopening plan currently limits any gatherings, including church gatherings, to no more than 10 people.

On Wednesday, Walz announced the phased reopenings of bars, restaurants, salons, tattoo parlors, and some other businesses on June 1, with significant restrictions. Restaurants and bars will have to rely on outdoor dining, with tables at least six feet apart, and must operate at 50 percent capacity, with a cap of 50 people. Salons, tattoo parlors, and similar businesses will be allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity. The Mall of America in Bloomington will be reopening on June 1.

But Walz's plan keeps a 10-person cap on religious gatherings. That isn't supposed to change until at least the next phase of re-opening, which will bump it up to 20 people. That isn't sitting well with some of the state's religious leaders, who say that Minnesota shouldn't have one set of rules for commercial gatherings and another for religious gatherings.

And so representatives from the state's Catholic and Lutheran churches sent Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison a letter Wednesday saying they're not willing to accept being treated differently from the "non-critical" businesses being allowing to reopen. Church leaders have given their congregations permission to resume in-person services on May 26, with certain hygiene and social distancing measures in place, and they're planning in-person Pentecost celebrations on Sunday, May 31. They're being represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, known for representing the Little Sisters of the Poor in its legal fight to be exempted from the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandates.

The Becket Fund's letter explains that

the Churches have been—and remain—leaders in protecting public health. They suspended in-person worship services voluntarily, and well before any of your stay-at-home directives required them to do so. As a result, for the past nine weeks, their congregations have not known the spiritual, mental, and social benefits that come from personal worship. Even with that loss, the Churches and their members have continued to follow public health guidance. Their religious convictions have spurred them to provide front-line care to those most vulnerable to COVID-19— from comforting those in dying moments with the anointing of the sick, to urging assistance to at-risk prisoners, to advocating for increased federal assistance to schools. And, as you know, the rigorous social distancing and hygiene measures that the Churches will implement for all in-person worship services are based on current guidance issued by the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other public health authorities.

Those measures include limiting capacity to 33 percent, blocking off pews, allowing only families to sit near each other, controlling the flow of people in and out of the church, and a lot of sanitizing of surfaces. They won't be passing around collection plates, and you shouldn't expect to see a choir.

On a Thursday morning media call, Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis; Rev. Dr. Lucas V. Woodford, president of the South District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod; and Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said they'd prefer to work with Walz to coordinate the reopening, but they also made it clear that they're not willing to be treated as less important than Minnesota businesses.

"It is in times like these that people turn to the church for comfort, support and hope," Hebda said.

"It's not in our nature to push against the government," Woodford added. But "we have come to a point where we are conscience-bound." He described the decision to allow bars, restaurants, and malls but not churches to reopen as "extreme and inequitable."

They may have the federal courts and the Department of Justice in their corner. The Department of Justice just sent a warning letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom over a similar problem: California's phased plans to reopen the economy puts schools and malls earlier in the process than churches.

Because worship is protected under the First Amendment, the government is generally restricted from targeting churches with special rules that don't apply to others. Laws need to be neutrally applied across the board. So if a state or city demands that churches close to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it needs to establish the same rules for any similar place of gathering. And the same holds true as states lift these restrictions. If California and Minnesota are going to start letting people gather in a limited basis in restaurants and bars and malls, why should churches be treated differently? What's the public health justification for that?

Federal courts have already intervened in other cases where governments have tried to establish special rules that only applied to churches, as when the mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, attempted to ban drive-in church services.

"It doesn't make common sense to say that Mall of America can open but not the Cathedral [of Saint Paul], especially given that the cathedral will be opening at a lower capacity," Rassbach explained.

Asked how the churches would respond if there's a new spike in COVID-19 cases after reopening, Rassbach said they'd be willing to follow the same guidelines as everybody else. If Walz orders a new closing of stores and restaurants because COVID-19 cases rocket back up, the churches would agree to do the same.

Rassbach said they hadn't "officially" received a response from Walz or Ellison. But in a response to a query from KSTP, Walz's office issued a statement that took a conciliatory tone:

As the Governor has said, this is a challenging situation for him personally and a challenging situation for him as a public official charged with protecting the health and safety of Minnesotans. He remains in routine communication with faith leader[s] across the state and understands the toll this pandemic is taking on the spiritual health of Minnesotans. Governor Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health will be meeting with the Archdiocese this week.

That doesn't sound like a man planning a crackdown. But we'll find out for sure next week, when services return.

NEXT: No, 1 in 3 Kids Coming Across the Southern Border Are Not Victims of Sex Trafficking

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  1. How does a one-man tattoo parlor open at 25% capacity? What does he do, ink one customer for ten minutes, wait 30 minutes, ink the next? Or tell the next three customers to go to the back of the line?

    Or are tattoists (?) multi-tasking and have been inking four people at once all this time? Last I saw were one-man operations working on one customer at a time.

    Or is tattooing so popular nowadays that they have big shops with ten tattooists all lined up, with their own chairs and equipment, like a big barber shop?

    1. You can’t. But if you do, you are under arrest. For safety.

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  2. “Churches need permission from the government to open their doors to worshippers.”

    I just love the libertarianism oozing out of this publication.

    1. What are you quoting? I don’t find that text in the article.

      1. Implicit in the article is the premise that churches need government permission to open their doors.

        I think a more libertarian stance would be that the government has no authority to force churches to close their doors, pandemic or not.

        1. The only people who find that implicit are faux-individualists who waste everybody’s time looking for impurity in others.

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          2. Either you accept that the government has the power to control access to houses of worship by way of executive order, or you do not.

            If you begin the discussion by asking under what conditions should government permit churches to reopen, you are implicitly accepting the premise that the government has the power to make that decision in the first place. This has nothing to do with purity. I am not by any means a libertarian but I can recognize when obvious libertarian positions and/or objections are being swept under the rug.

        2. That is part of the First Amendment.

        3. Let’s stop the pretending, churches never stand behind what they preach, like any other entertainment media, many of them have turned into a feel good business. So yes, if a business like a mall can open, why not a church. After all, they both seek to provide you with that heavenly experience. The only difference, malls are packed with communist Chinese goods. Opening malls only benefits communist China. Better to keep them closed and open churches instead.

  3. I do not understand ANY restriction on church gatherings. First of all, they have their Lord and Savior to protect them, which is much better than any epidemiologist or live-saving edict from the government. Second of all, I contend that the more of these religious zealots that go meet their maker as a result of COVID-19, the better we as people will be.

    1. These are standard-issue Catholics and Lutherans, not “religious zealots.” To the likes of you, Thomas Jefferson was a zealot for his unitarianism.

      1. Still, thank you for remining me that it was a good idea for me to return to the Church.

        1. Or did the Church return to you?

          1. Put it however you will – I only brought it up because I previously saw fit to announce my leaving the Church on Reason’s comment section, so therefore I think I should *retract* that announcement in the same forum – cf. Matthew 10:33.


            1. Glad you’re feeling better! You did seem a bit down there, for a while.

              1. Hmm, if the Reason commenters were worried about me, I can only be grateful.

    2. Is Billy the new reincarnation of AK?

    3. I will now demonstrate, logically and impeccably, that Government Almighty is the boss of God Almighty…

      Here is PROOF!

      We read in the papers, every day almost, of federal judges (servants of Government Almighty) sitting in judgment (using their magical mind-reading powers) about whether or not our religious beliefs are “sincerely held”, or not.

      Yet I have NEVER heard of credible evidence concerning God Almighty, sitting in judgment about whether or not our beliefs in Government Almighty are “sincerely held”, or not!!!
      Brain case closed!!!  

    4. Well, you’re an asshole.

    5. Fuck off bigot.

  4. 50%, with a max of 50 ? ! ! ?
    I can’t get the picture to focus.
    I have a place, doesn’t matter if it is a church or what, it’s just a place for people. It has a capacity for 350 people back in the pre-history of February; probably fire code set, not state executive.
    So what is the (alleged) logic of a limit of 50 people now? 50% is 175, only 50 people is just under 15%.
    Makes. No. Sense.
    Oh, wait. If the actual objective is fascism in disguise, it all fits.

    1. No, you got it: it makes no sense.

      I have a theory that politicians are really wannabe business executives, as portrayed by Hollywood, where they bark orders (“Get me that report!”), slam down telephones, fire faithful employees for getting coffee orders wrong, and hire smart alecks who wander in off the street.

      Thus they really do believe that “leading” only requires barking out nonsense orders and yelling a lot.

      1. “hire smart alecks who wander in off the street”

        …in the politicians’ case, the smart aleck better be walking in with a campaign contribution.

      2. As portrayed hilariously in Brazil (“You’ll be making decisions…. Yes. No. Cancel that. Yes, yes, yes!”) or Back To School (“Hold some of my calls.”).

    2. 50%, 15%, hell, 5%; whatever it takes to squeeze these churches to death. When will you realize that this is the great opportunity to put one of the State’s foremost competitors out of business? It’s possible that we might save some of the architecture, just like the pretty onion domes in Red Square, but that’s a secondary consideration. The pin-headed red-necks can have all the freedumb of religion they want, they just won’t be able to do it publicly.

      1. I suppose it’s possible that they are doing that deliberately, there are certainly plenty of people who take that view of religion. But it would seem like an odd tactic in a really pretty religious country.

        1. Do you have another explanation why churches are clearly being treated differently in some places?

      2. Because science.

  5. Minnesota is already turning blue to red, so let’s piss off the Lutherans and Catholics. Sounds like a winning strategy to me.

    1. On a related note, modern Lutherans and Catholics are generally easy going, but is it ever a good idea to piss off Scandinavians, Germans and the Irish (these are the three most represented groups of the two religions is my guess in Minnesota)?

      1. Not very many Irish in the frozen North ( we had snow fall just over 2 weeks ago)

        We have German Catholics. Lots of Germans on both sides of the 30 Years War.

    2. Besides Catholic and Luthern churches saying outright that they will defy MN Gov orders, there is also a lawsuit to reopen churches

      “So while it will now be easy once again to go shopping for home furnishings or new clothes on a Sunday, you still are not allowed to attend church, temple or mosque, even though those religious organizations are able to comply with exactly the same public health guidelines,” said the attorneys

      The MN AG says “let’s be clear that they’re choosing to play politics rather than focus on keeping people safe.”

      1. Does the MN AG know he sounds just like King George?

        “that Thomas Jefferson is choosing to play politics rather than focus on keeping the colonies safe”

        1. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

  6. “It’s not in our nature to push against the government,”

    This guy should read his own religion’s history, it wouldn’t even exist without a healthy dose of people ignoring what the Roman government wanted. Those people were put to death when caught and still decided that going to Church was the right move.

    That’s what baffled me about how the Church has responded to this thus far, they used to be willing to be thrown to the lions to practice their religion, now they’re not even willing to get a ticket.

    1. This was a Lutheran leader, and Lutheran history includes getting many of the German princes on their side against the Pope and the Catholic powers. They traditionally have close ties to the secular government.

      Now they’re learning that what the government giveth, it can taketh away.

      1. And those Lutherans never would’ve existed had the original Christians said “Oh the king doesn’t like what we’re doing? I guess we’ll stop and go home then”.

        That, and the Bible even tells you that you should try to get along with your secular government, but if push comes to shove God’s law always comes first. If you believe God wants you to go to Church on Sunday, what your governor has to say about it shouldn’t matter to you.

    2. “That’s what baffled me about how the Church has responded to this thus far, they used to be willing to be thrown to the lions to practice their religion, now they’re not even willing to get a ticket.”

      Sadly, you can say the same of Americans as a whole

    3. There’s a difference between the early Christians in Rome and the later Catholics and much later Lutherans

  7. I’m not even slightly religious but these governors are extremely thin ice with all of the 1A shit and especially practice of religion. The arrogance is astonishing.

  8. I think what Scott meant to say is “living in a free country means that you get to assess your own risk and you don’t ever need to ask for mommy and daddy’s permission to go outside and play. Fuck Tim Walz.”

    I got that whole article down to under 50 words. I should be a Reason editor. I think I can make some headway with Dalmia.

    1. Careful or squirrel is gonna come write a 12 page rant that ends with offering you a job at Reason.

      1. I can do what I always do and just not read it.

  9. Laws need to be neutrally applied across the board.

    Fuck you and anybody that looks like you Scott Shackford. How is it that editors at a magazine called Reason either cannot or will not acknowledge the meaning of the word unalienable. Congress (and after the 14th, the States) shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. If someone believes that gathering in a group and praying has merit, they have an unalienable right to their belief and the founding documents clearly delineate that no law can be passed that prohibits their free exercise of that belief. Show me the temporary exemption for public safety you quisling!

    1. They thought of that by not actually passing any laws, just issuing executive orders.

      Checkmate, bitter clinger.

    2. Chuck,your use of that vulgarity precludes me from even reading what you wrote.

      1. A worthy stance (if sincere), though it will interfere with your enjoyment of a *lot* of comments at Reason.

    3. It’s right there with the part that says you need a license to carry a gun or permissions from the government to purchase a gun. This is for a right that “shall not be infringed”, too.

  10. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States

    What is a ‘privilege or immunity’ if not the inalienable rights called out in the BoR? The 14th doesn’t just limit the legislatures of the state the way the 1st limits the Congress and not the Executive. It also specifies enforcement which is the goddamn definition of ‘police powers’, so fuck those fucking governors. And any cop that enforces the orders is betraying their oath to the constitution, as would any member of the armed forces or National Guard who participates.

    1. SIgh… response to Fat Mike…

  11. Even our pagan Guvna Lamont of deep blue Corrupticut knew he could not order religious communities to do anything.Here illegals hide in Churchs and the cops won’t go in after them.

    1. What a conundrum if we had more than the allowed number of people in the church, but they were all illegal aliens?

  12. I’m waiting for Reason writers and many commentors who made fun of certain Conservatives who stated there was a war on Christianity from the left, to apologise.

    1. The war on Christianity, in their eyes, is justified. No apologies.

    2. From the progressive standpoint it’s not a War on Christianity – after all, some of their best friends are Christian! It’s just those right-wing fanatic Christians, they’re the ones causing the trouble with their reactionary habits – voting for Trump, disobeying gay-rights and trans-rights laws, holding services when other denominations are content to obey Caesar and stay closed. Really, they brought it all on themselves. Left-wing Christians (who helped influence progressives with Social Gospel theorizing) will more or less cheer on the progressives, perhaps hoping to avoid the fate of Abbe Lamourette.

  13. quote: challenging situation for him as a public official charged with protecting the health and safety of Minnesotans
    RIGHT THERE is the lie, and the problem. Call mhim on it.
    WHERE in the Fed or State constitution is the chief exectuve “charged with protecting the health and safety of (select YOUR state):………..?

    They ARE charged to protect the enumerated liberties and rights jof EVERY individual in their jurisdiction. ARE THEY? Now with lockdoens, etc.

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