Ray Hacke, the churches’ lawyer, works for Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal defense organization based in California. (Pacific Justice Institute)
Ray Hacke, the churches’ lawyer, works for Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal defense organization based in California. (Pacific Justice Institute)
Late Monday the Oregon Supreme Court delayed Baker County Judge Matthew Shirtcliff’s ruling on Oregon’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” orders.

Justice Thomas Balmer, the State Supreme Court’s presiding justice, ruled that the high court would consider the state’s petition to dismiss Judge Shirtcliff’s ruling.

The court gave plaintiffs until Friday to file their responses. Then the court will consider the matter.

The Archdiocese of Portland has no comment on the case at this time.

In response Gov. Kate Brown said, “There are no shortcuts for us to return to life as it was before this pandemic. Moving too quickly could return Oregon to the early days of this crisis, when we braced ourselves for hospitals to be overfilled.”

Earlier Monday, Judge Shirtcliff had decided in favor of 10 Protestant churches that had filed suit May 6 against Gov. Brown’s emergency orders. The judge found those orders to be “null and void.” The churches had persuaded him that they were suffering irreparable harm, he explained, and that his ruling would be in the public interest “by allowing people to fully exercise their right to worship and conduct their business.”

The churches’ lawyer, Salem-based Ray Hacke, had said that Gov. Brown’s modified order, which allows up to 25 people with social distancing, was not enough.

In reporting on the ruling, The Oregon quoted Hacke, as saying, “If we’re risking our lives to go to church, if we survive great. If we die, then we’re going to heaven. If we want to take that risk, then it’s on us.”

The governor’s office argued that damage from the spread of COVID-19 would not be confined to the worshipers taking the risk. “But when behavior endangers others, it is not just a matter of individual choice and is, instead, a threat to public health,” Marc Abrams, the governor’s lawyer, wrote.

In his seven-page ruling, the judge explained his decision was based on Oregon Revised Statute 433.441, which limits public health emergencies to 14 days, or up to 28 days at most. Shirtcliff ruled that because the pandemic was a public health emergency, that rule applied.

He also granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of more than 10 or Gov. Brown’s executive orders relating to the pandemic since March 8.

The governor’s office, in response, said that the governor had issued her emergency order under a different state law, ORS 401.165, which can continue indefinitely.

The 10 churches who brought the suit are Elkhorn Baptist Church in Baker City, Calvary Chapel Newberg, Calvary Chapel Lincoln City, Calvary Chapel Southeast Portland, New Horizon Christian Fellowship in Klamath Falls, Camas Valley Christian Fellowship, Peoples Church in Salem, Prepare The Way religion nonprofit ministry in Bend, Bend Community Church, Covenant Grace Church in Roseburg.

Judge Shirtcliff’s ruling isn’t unique. Judges in Wisconsin and North Carolina have also ruled in favor of plaintiffs. In Wisconsin’s case, the judge said the governor should have consulted with legislators before extending the stay-at-home order. In North Carolina, the judge blocked limiting indoor religious services.