Three N. Idahoans front suit challenging constitutionality of COVID-19 restrictions

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Sagle resident Scott Herndon, who mounted an unsuccessful bid for Idaho Senate in 2018 and has since been in the forefront of a number of local hot-button issues from abortion to gun rights, is again in the regional news after filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of statewide COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings.

Scott Herndon. Courtesy photo.

The federal suit, leveled earlier this month at Gov. Brad Little and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen, argues that the now-expired “stay-at-home” order violated constitutional rights to assemble for church services. The so-called “stay healthy” order that replaced the governor’s shelter-in-place directive allows gatherings in churches, but still mandates that congregants adhere to social distancing guidelines.

According to reports in statewide media, Herndon is joined by two other North Idahoans in the suit, including Revs. Josh Jones of Laclede and Michael Gulotta of Grangeville, who argue that despite the expiration of the shelter-in-place order, Little could still reimpose restrictions should cases of COVID-19 increase beyond certain thresholds in the four-phase “Idaho Rebounds” reopening plan.

The Moscow Daily News reported May 9 that Rev. Jonathon Krenz, of Augustana Lutheran Church in Moscow, expressed similar concerns about the constitutionality of the stay-at-home order to the local chief of police, and those correspondences — though Krenz is not a plaintiff — have been included in the complaint.

As the Associated Press in Boise reported, similar challenges to the constitutionality of gubernatorial mandates limiting gatherings, including church services, have gone down to defeat in courts around the country in recent weeks. However, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, on May 13 the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against that state governor’s stay-at-home order, opening the way for all “bars, restaurants and concert halls” to reopen without restriction — “unless local officials implement their own restrictions.” The implication, as the paper pointed out, would be “a patchwork of policies, with rules varying significantly from one county to the next.” 

Meanwhile, according to a poll commissioned by the state’s largest business lobby, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, 79.3% of Idahoans approve of Little’s phased reopening of the economy. The results, announced May 12, also show 75.5% of residents approve of Little’s handling of the pandemic.

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