Minnesota governor backs down on restriction of religious services

Scott reported here on the resistance from Minnesota’s Catholic bishops and Lutheran leaders to continuing restrictions placed on religious worship by Gov. Walz. That resistance has paid off. Walz has agreed to lift his restriction on church services of more than ten people. The way is now clear for houses of worship of all faith traditions to open to larger groups starting Wednesday, May 27, 2020.

The Becket Fund, which defends religious liberty throughout the country, took a lead role in negotiating the reopening of Minnesota’s houses of worship. As it explains:

The Minnesota Catholic Conference and The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod worked cooperatively with Governor Tim Walz to develop a plan for reopening churches by Pentecost Sunday. Governor Walz returned to the negotiating table after the Churches acted in defense of their free exercise, announcing on Wednesday that they would resume in-person worship services despite the Governor’s COVID-19 executive order, which wrongly subordinated Minnesotans’ spiritual well-being to economic interests.

Minnesota’s reopening plan is a model for other states, as it shows that it is possible for in-person religious worship to resume in a safe, cooperative, and responsible manner.

Under the reopening plan, churches are permitted to hold indoor services at 25 percent capacity with up to 250 people. The churches have published extensive safety and hygiene protocols to ensure a safe return to worship.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, said:

We are grateful that Governor Walz entered into respectful dialogue with us, recognized the spiritual needs of our faithful, and agreed that it is possible to resume worship services safely and responsibly.
Hopefully, our experience of constructive dialogue can serve as a roadmap for churches across the country suffering from similar inequities, whether intended or unintended, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are grateful that Becket and Sidley Austin LLP [a major national law firm] helped us to guard our first freedom—religious freedom—so that Catholics can receive the Eucharist and be strengthened in their response to the challenges of this trying time.

Rev. Dr. Lucas Woodford, President of the Minnesota South District of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, said:

The ability to meet in person to worship God and support one another is invaluable to our community of faith. We are so pleased that Minnesota decided to reopen churches, without needing to resort to legal action. We will remain prayerful and watchful, so that this agreement is just the beginning of a return to full, in-person worship.

It’s understandable that these religious leaders are putting a happy face on their dispute with Gov. Walz, and it’s true that all’s well that ends well. Still, it’s unfortunate that these leaders and their outside advocates had to work so hard to uphold religious rights in Minnesota.