Supremes grant stay, COVID-19 orders remain

Calvary Chapel in Lincoln City was among churches that sued Gov. Kate Brown's COVID-19 executive orders.

OREGON — On Monday evening, the Oregon Supreme Court granted an emergency stay, keeping Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 executive orders in effect after a Baker County judge ruled them invalid earlier in the day.

Calvary Chapel in Lincoln City was one of eight churches that joined a lawsuit against the governor, arguing her “stay-at-home” orders wrongfully prevented them from congregating, as they should have expired 28 or 30 days after Brown declared an emergency. The suit was filed in Baker County Circuit Court, where lead defendant Elkhorn Baptist Church is located.

Brown declared a 60-day state of emergency March 8 — which she recently extended to July 6 — citing Oregon Revised Statute 401.165, which has no specific time restrictions. But the plaintiffs argued her powers were narrowed by Article X of the Oregon Constitution, which requires convening the legislature within 30 days to renew the emergency.

They also argued Brown invoked some powers under another Oregon statute, 433.441, which relates to public health emergencies and whose provisions can last no more than 28 days. Every day since the order should have expired, the defendants’ rights had been infringed, the suit argued.

A hearing on a temporary restraining order for an injunction against the governor’s emergency provisions was held Thursday, May 14, before Judge Matthew Shirtcliff, who issued his ruling on Monday.

Shirtcliff ruled the governor need not abide by the constitutional limit, as she did not invoke Article X and had the option not to. However, Shirtcliff wrote in his order, when she utilized 433.441, Brown automatically triggered its time provisions. The judge wrote, “...because the Governor implemented statutory provisions, she is bound by them. Thus, once the maximum 28-day time provisions ... expired, the governor’s executive order and all other orders were rendered null and void.”

The governor immediately filed an appeal with the Oregon Supreme Court and sought an emergency stay to keep Shirtcliff’s order from taking effect while the appeal is pending.

Phil Magnan, Calvary Chapel’s pastor, told the News-Times shortly after the injunction was granted that his church would have awaited the supreme court’s final ruling before resuming normal worship services. “We hold no animosity toward the governor. Even if we prevail, we would still include social distancing measures in our services. We won’t receive any payment if we win our lawsuit — this is about holding the governor accountable to following Oregon law.”

In a statement released following the supreme court’s emergency stay, the governor said, “From the beginning of this crisis, I have worked within my authority, using science and data as my guide, heeding the advice of medical experts. This strategy has saved lives and protected Oregonians from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are no shortcuts for us to return to life as it was before this pandemic. Moving too quickly could return Oregon to the early days of this crisis, when we braced ourselves for hospitals to be overfilled and ventilators in short supply.”

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