Trump says churches ‘essential’ as Oregon Supreme Court hears lawsuit arguments

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Ten Oregon churches are suing Governor Kate Brown

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As Oregon’s highest court was set to hear arguments in a lawsuit against Gov. Kate Brown that says her stay-home order violates the freedom of worship of 10 churches, President Donald Trump announced he was designating all houses of worship as essential, demanding that governors around the country allow them to reopen.

“If they don’t do it, I will override the governors,” he said before leaving the White House press briefing room podium without taking any questions.

The constitutional conundrum, since it’s unclear what authority he has to make this order, came as 10 Oregon churches and Brown’s legal team submit arguments to the Oregon Supreme court. The high court had temporarily blocked a lower court judge’s decision that would have voided the governor’s emergency stay-home order.

Reopening guidelines for houses of worship were prepared weeks ago by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the White House did not release them until Thursday when Trump said at a Ford Motor Co. plant that his administration would issue guidance soon, according to The Associated Press.

Oregon’s high court put a stay on a ruling by a Baker County judge that voided Brown’s emergency stay-home order during the pandemic.

Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff ruled Brown erred by not seeking the Legislature’s approval to extend the stay-at-home orders beyond a 28-day limit. The Supreme Court’s ruling stays Shirtcliff’s decision pending review by all the high court justices.

Kevin Mannix of Common Sense Oregon is the the attorney representing the Elkhorn Baptist Church in the suit.

“We’re not saying Oregonians should be foolish about the coronavirus pandemic,” said Mannix. “It depends on where you are and you should be responsible in that context.”

He says the lawsuit is not about ignoring health and safety guidelines — it’s about checking the governor’s power and allowing people to work or attend church in unaffected rural counties.

The Oregon Supreme Court’s ruling stays pending the review by all high court justices.

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