Republican gubernatorial candidate Joshua Freed, who sued Gov. Jay Inslee in April over the state’s stay-home order, is free to conduct one-on-one Bible study sessions in his backyard under the terms of that order.
Freed, a former Bothell mayor, had sued Inslee in federal court, contending the ban violated the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious freedom, assembly and free speech. His lawsuit argued the ban interfered with his right to host a regular Bible study at his home.
He had requested a court order to immediately allow him to conduct one-on-one, socially distanced Bible study sessions in his backyard. But he withdrew that request on Friday after state lawyers said that was already permitted under Inslee’s order. The larger lawsuit, challenging the order’s ban on religious gatherings, continues.
“We all have been engaged in a journey through territories never lived by this generation or really any other,” U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle said Friday. “Never has the world seen a kind of universal quarantine in the form of required or advised stay-at-home orders from federal and state officials.”
Inslee’s stay-home order, initially issued in March, bans church and religious services, but permits one-on-one “religious counseling,” state lawyers argued.
“Mr. Freed’s desire to hold a one-on-one Bible study session while practicing social distancing was always permissible under the governor’s order,” Inslee spokesman Mike Faulk said Friday. “‘Religious counseling’ is deemed essential. We have never defined this phrase because we trust the individuals involved to determine whether an interaction is ‘religious counseling’ and whether that interaction must be performed in person.”
Freed said Inslee backed down and called the consensus reached Friday “a very important victory for our constitutional rights and for those of faith where exercising their religion is essential.”
Inslee’s initial stay-home order did not mention “religious counseling” but did include an exemption for mental health workers. This, the state’s lawyers wrote in court filings, prompted questions about whether “religious counseling” was included in the exemption.
“The Governor’s Office responded affirmatively,” the court filings said. “Religious counseling is deemed essential.”
A federal judge in California this week upheld that state’s similar ban on in-person church services, ruling the state was justified in the restrictions to protect public health.
Inslee is also being sued by Republican gubernatorial candidate and anti-tax activist Tim Eyman and by four Republican state legislators over various aspects of his stay-home order.
Staff writer Jim Brunner contributed to this report.