Religous Liberty of Pastors and Congregants Restored


Prof. William Wagner

WFFC Distinguished Chair for Faith & Freedom at SAU

Lincoln understood:

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we lose our freedoms it will be because we have destroyed ourselves from within.”

When the Governor of Michigan decreed it to be a crime for any number of individuals to gather for any purpose, she expressly made it a crime for individuals to travel to and attend church worship services – or even to meet with a pastor to live stream a sermon).  To be sure, a misleading exemption said a “place” of worship was not subject to the penalty. This language expressly excluded, however, individuals like a pastor and congregants, and arguably did not even protect a church from prosecution, only from the penalty.

After we received notice of law enforcement approaching clergy, and were contacted by numerous pastors (who had read the previous orders), for representation… and upon also learning that the governor had refused in negotiations to protect individuals or recognize the constitutional limitations of the First Amendment in her orders, we filed suit.  

A copy of the Complaint can be found here and alleges:

  1. Violation of Pastor’s and Congregant’s First Amendment right to Free Exercise of Religion.
  2. Violation of Pastor’s and Congregant’s First Amendment right to Free Expression and Association.
  3. Violation of Pastor’s and Congregant’s Constitutional Due Process Rights.
  4. Violation of the Constitutional requirement for Separation of Powers.
  5. Violation of the Constitutional Guarantee of a republican form of government.
  6. The Michigan Emergency Powers laws are unconstitutional.

After we filed suit the Governor changed the language to protect individuals who want to worship God.  Here is the new language the Governor added (which she refused to add prior to the filing of the lawsuit):

“No individual is subject to penalty under section 20 of this order for engaging in or traveling to engage in religious worship at a place of religious worship,…nothing in this order shall be taken to abridge protections guaranteed by the state or federal constitution”​ 

see: ​,9309,7-387-90499_90705-528460–,00.html

While the Governor has acquiesced to the fact that churches have a First Amendment right to freely assemble and freely exercise their religious beliefs, pastors and churches must still decide whether and when to safely open. 

This positive development does not mean that we believe the Governor’s EOs are valid, legal or binding. All the constitutional and statutory violations as stated in our Complaint are still present. There are a number of other pending cases that address those issues we will be involved in those lawsuits through amicus briefs and other means if requested in those matters.


About the Author

Prof. William Wagner
WFFC Distinguished Chair for Faith & Freedom at SAU
Professor Wagner holds the WFFC Distinguished Chair for Faith & Freedom at Spring Arbor University. He has a special interest in building and preserving environments where Christians may share the Good News of Jesus, free from persecution and oppression.

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