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By: Andy Treese
Can the government ban public gatherings, church services, political rallies, or protests during a global pandemic? The question isn’t hypothetical. Federal, state and local officials across the United States are struggling to prepare appropriate emergency orders targeted at slowing the spread of coronavirus. Some jurisdictions have banned gatherings of various sizes altogether, while others have banned a variety of assemblies with carveouts for essential services, religious gatherings and for other reasons.
Not everyone is complying with emergency orders, however. In Louisiana, a large Church reportedly continues to hold services with more than 1,000 attendees, defying the governor’s order banning gatherings of more than 50 people. Church officials have suggested the ban violates First Amendment protections of free exercise and freedom of assembly. That may or may not be correct, but few local governments want to find themselves at the tip of the spear of a costly constitutional challenge while trying to handle an emergency.
First Amendment challenges to coronavirus emergency orders may be unavoidable, but local governments may wish to consider a few key principles when preparing or amending them:
The local government team at Freeman Mathis & Gary will continue to monitor emerging constitutional issues arising from governmental response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis. On April 2, we will discuss the impact of Coronavirus on law enforcement. Click here to register.
FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.
You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].
**DISCLAIMER: The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19. The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement. We can only give legal advice to clients. Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG. An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest. As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you. We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such. We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**