Calvary Chapel Bangor’s Religious Freedom Case on Hold
Story by Margot Bass and Christmas Beeler
The U.S. Supreme Court decision affecting Maine’s religious freedoms and ability to meet in churches has been delayed, according to Ken Graves, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Bangor, ME. Ken, who filed the suit with the Supreme Court in February, had asked believers to fast and pray as his legal team, the nonprofit Liberty Counsel, prepared to present their case against Maine Governor Janet Mills on Thursday.
“There will be no decision from the Supreme Court this week,” Ken confirmed. “The court usually denies petitions like ours, so governors like ours usually waive the right to respond. In this case, the Court did not deny our petition, which is good news for us, but it has required a response from the Mills administration. That allows the Mills administration a couple of weeks.” Pastor Ken thanked all who fasted and prayed in advance of the expected hearing, humorously adding, “Eat now. We carry on.”
So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer. Ezra 8:23
Mat Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, explained, “We will hear something from the Supreme Court before the term ends at the end of June. The Court gave Governor Mills until June 9 to respond. We’ll then file a reply to that response, and the Court will meet together in conference and make a decision.”
Mat continued, “Before they go for the summer break, they could actually issue an injunction, giving us temporary relief while the case is pending, which is a strong possibility, then decide to take the case and hear oral arguments. In the meantime, we have our relief, and they return and ultimately issue a final ruling on the merits.”
He is positive about the outcome. “I think at the end of the day, we’re going to win this case. And we may well get a ruling in the very near future in the U.S. Supreme Court. We will strike down the Governor’s unconstitutional restrictions. It’s just a matter of time; not a matter of if, but when.”
Background of the Case
Maine has experienced some of the harshest COVID-19 restrictions in the country, especially regarding religious freedoms. Governor Janet Mills ultimately imposed a cap on religious gatherings of 50 persons or five per 1,000 square feet; practically speaking, the cap limited attendance at most churches to 50.
Pastor Ken’s hope and prayer for the case is that the Court would hear their arguments and rule on the merits of the case, thus settling the issue for the whole nation. “Or they will do as they have done elsewhere and just order the lower court that ruled against us to reverse their decision from last year,” he stated. He is seeking a clear answer for the nation, since many of the religious gathering caps that the Supreme Court has overturned or sent back to lower courts in the past year (such as New York, California, and Nevada) are only by temporary injunction.
The imposed limit subjects Maine’s churches to criminal penalties, fines, and other sanctions for gathering. “We have been forced to choose between worship and criminal punishment. In a country born on the desire to be free and with the right to worship fundamentally enshrined in our First Amendment, forcing such a Hobson’s choice is unconscionable and frightening,” Ken warned.
One aspect of the governor’s anti-religious bias affects CC Bangor’s Calvary Residential Discipleship (CRD), a Christ-centered addiction recovery program. The state allows unlimited occupancy at overnight shelters that feed and clothe those in need or offer social services, which includes counseling for addiction—so long as it does not include worship. Ken noted that the governor’s orders allow the CRD program to continue as long as they refrain from Bible reading and worship.
Ken wrote that the caveat is unacceptable: “As a pastor who has firsthand experience with the evils of substance abuse and who has worked nearly my entire life to help people trapped in bondage by their addictions, I know that Bible studies and worship are essential. … I cannot in good conscience remove worship from the CRD. … On the one hand, I am compelled to help the residents in their recovery; and on the other hand, doing so subjects me to criminal charges and fines.”
In light of record-breaking statistics about overdose deaths, anxiety disorders, and depressive disorders since the COVID-19 lockdowns, Ken insisted, “Gathering … to minister to these souls so desperately in need of the hope that only Jesus Christ can offer has never been more necessary, and Calvary Chapel intends to fill that void.”
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.
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