U.S. Supreme Court rejects petition from Orrington chapel over COVID-19 rules

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Oct. 5—The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from an Orrington church that sued Maine Gov. Janet Mills over pandemic-related restrictions.

In a lawsuit filed last year, Calvary Chapel argued that the restrictions on gatherings violated the constitutional right to freely practice religion. A federal judge denied the chapel's emergency motion and then dismissed the case entirely. An appellate court has agreed with both decisions.

But Calvary Chapel took its latest appeal to the Supreme Court this spring and argued that Mills might renew restrictions on gatherings to reduce the spread of the highly contagious delta variant. The state said there have not been any such restrictions since May.

Justice Stephen Breyer denied the chapel's petition for injunctive relief in August, and the court announced Monday that it would not take the case at all. It did not explain why it denied the petition.

"We are gratified that the United States Supreme Court denied Calvary Chapel's petition," Attorney General Aaron Frey said in a written statement. "There have been no restrictions on the size of gatherings for more than four months and Calvary Chapel has been free to conduct its services however it sees fit. Its petition was a waste of public and judicial resources, and the court properly rejected it."

The church is represented by Liberty Counsel, a conservative group based in Florida. In a news release, that group said the case is still pending at the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, despite the Supreme Court's decision not to review one aspect. Attorney Mat Staver, the organization's founder and chairman, pointed to other instances in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of churches that challenged restrictions related to COVID-19.

"Our litigation in Maine and victories at the Supreme Court on behalf of places of worship forced Gov. Janet Mills to remove her restrictions," Staver said in the release. "We want to make sure she never returns to her unconstitutional ways."