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Rising Sun pastor among plaintiffs in lawsuit against governor

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Prayer vigil

In this file photo, the Rev. Steve Dixon, pastor at Porters Grove Baptist Church near Rising Sun, reads aloud from the Bible.

BALTIMORE — Three Maryland state delegates, several Maryland pastors and businesses filed a lawsuit in federal court Saturday against Gov. Larry Hogan and other state officials requesting a temporary restraining order and other relief against COVID-19 related executive orders issued by the governor in recent weeks.

The suit, entitled Antietam Battlefield et al vs. Hogan et al, was filed by delegates Warren Miller, Dan Cox and Neil Parrott as well as 10 pastors and other church representatives, two former members of the U.S. military, two businesses and the group Reopen Maryland, LLC, alleging a number of U.S. and Maryland constitutional violations against Hogan and his administration.

One of the pastor plaintiffs is Rev. Steven Dixon, the pastor of Porter’s Grove Baptist Church in Rising Sun. In paragraph 84 of the complaint, Dixon asserts that on or about March 24, 2020 the Maryland State Police came to the church located on 478 Connelly Road in Rising Sun and hand delivered a notice and threat of criminal prosecution if the pastor did not shut his church’s doors and cease holding worship services. The entry of the officers to the property was also recorded on video according to the complaint.

Decisions about worship in complaint

Dixon and the other pastors specifically allege in the complaint that Hogan’s executive orders in response to the COVID-19 virus violate the free exercise clause of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. They and the other plaintiffs also allege that the governor’s actions violate the First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble, freedom of speech and the prohibition against the establishment of a religion.

In fact in paragraph 14 of the complaint it is alleged that the governor has effectively taken control of churches via his executive orders, “The Governor has purported to become bishopric and pastor to every church in Maryland, by deciding when, where and how each church shall worship God.”

Other allegations in complaint

The complaint also alleges that Hogan and his administration have violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Art. IV, Sec. 4 of the U.S. Constitution in violating the plaintiff’s right to a republican form of government.

The complaint further alleges that Hogan’s executive orders are in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause and the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against taking anything of value from a citizen without due process of law.

The complaint also alleges related violations under the Maryland Constitution.

The complaint further alleges that Hogan’s orders violate the plaintiff’s right to have laws only be suspended by the Maryland General Assembly, which is Article 9 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.

Requests in the complaint

As part of the allegations, plaintiffs request that the federal court issue a temporary restraining order enjoining Hogan and any other state officials from enforcing or attempting to enforce the governor’s recent COVID-19 related executive orders. Also the complaint requests a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of the governor’s orders pending trial and a permanent injunction after trial.

The complaint further asks for judgement declaring that the governor’s executive orders were unconstitutional under both the U.S. and Maryland constitutions and for damages resulting from the governor’s orders.

Cox, who filed the complaint in federal court, specifically alleged that he was scheduled to speak at a political event Saturday protesting the governor’s executive orders to stay-at-home and was warned by law enforcement officials that the “Governor has his sights on you,” according to the complaint.

More allegations

The complaint also alleges that Cox was warned that he could be arrested and later confirmed with the governor’s senior advisor and chief counsel that he may be arrested if he attended or spoke at the political event.

The complaint alleges that the governor’s orders are causing Antietam Battlefield KOA campground a loss of approximately $50,000 per month, and is an unlawful taking under the Fifth Amendment.

The complaint further alleges that Adventure Park USA, LLC has lost approximately $700,000 due to the governor’s executive orders.

Staff Sgt. Jason Anderson and Lance Cpl. Christopher Repogle, allege that the governor’s orders are causing severe deprivation of their rights and the governor’s requirement to wear masks reminds both men of the battlefield in Iraq, according to the complaint.

Anderson further alleges in the complaint that the governor’s orders have prevented him from receiving necessary physical therapy for wounds he received in battle.

One of the pastors who was named as a plaintiff in the complaint, Rev. Johnny Hudson was born without arms. The complaint alleges that the order to wear a mask is an affront to his personal liberties as it denies him access to drive his car, which he does with his teeth and limits him from using his phone as he uses facial recognition in order to make calls.

Citing precedent

In support of their complaint, the plaintiffs offer two recent federal court cases out of Kansas and Kentucky where the courts issued temporary restraining orders enjoining state officials in those cases from enforcing restrictions on religious gatherings and threatening criminal penalties for non-compliance.

Additionally, the plaintiffs allege that Title 14 of the Maryland Code, which Hogan is using to assert his authority to declare an emergency passed in the wake of Sept. 11 and its focus was on war and emergencies such as radiological, biological and chemical warfare, not issues relating to a virus. The allege that Title 14 does not grant Hogan the powers he has used to respond to COVID-19 and that even if it does, he has overstepped the restrictions outlined in Title 14.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake. According to a memo released by the court on Monday, the defendants have until Friday to file a response and a conference call to set a date for a reply and a hearing is scheduled for May 11, 2020 at 3 p.m.

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