Republican gubernatorial candidate Joshua Freed sued Gov. Jay Inslee in federal court on Wednesday, challenging the state’s ban on religious gatherings issued as part of the governor’s stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The 12-page complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, contends the ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom, assembly and free speech.
Freed’s lawsuit says Inslee’s order prohibiting in-person spiritual meetings overstepped his authority, and ignored less burdensome alternative restrictions.
“Prohibiting or punishing Plaintiff’s religious speech does not serve any legitimate, rational, substantial, or compelling governmental interest,” the lawsuit states.
Freed, a former Bothell mayor and real-estate developer, is a Christian and says the ban has interfered with his right to host a regular Bible study at his home. His lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction voiding Inslee’s order and a judgment that the restrictions violate the Constitution.
“If a Washington citizen can visit a marijuana shop or grocery store to buy goods in a responsible and socially distanced manner, how are they not allowed to practice faith-based activities and have spiritual fellowship using the same precautions?” Freed said in a news release announcing the lawsuit.
Mike Faulk, a spokesman for Inslee’s office, referred requests for comment to the governor’s reelection campaign, “because the plaintiff is running for governor.” An Inslee campaign spokesman declined to comment.
Freed, who participated in a protest against Inslee at the state Capitol in Olympia over the weekend, is among several Republican candidates for governor vying to attract attention and support to get past the August primary and face off against Inslee in November.
His rivals include initiative promoter Tim Eyman; Loren Culp, the police chief of Republic, Ferry County; state Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn; and Anton Sakharov, a Maple Valley program manager.