Inslee challenger seeks to block ban on religious gatherings

The GOP candidate for governor says he’s been prevented from conducting Bible studies in his home.

SEATTLE — Republican gubernatorial candidate Joshua Freed of Bothell sought a federal court order Wednesday to immediately block enforcement of Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide ban on multi-person religious gatherings, a controversial prong of a broader statewide stay-home order aimed at blunting the spread of the potentially deadly virus.

Freed filed an emergency motion for a restraining order against Inslee in the U.S. District Court in Seattle.

He filed his original lawsuit last week in the same court. It argues the prohibition on religious gatherings of any number of participants is unconstitutional because it prevents Freed from exercising his rights of free speech, assembly and religious freedom guaranteed under the First Amendment.

At that time he requested a preliminary injunction. Wednesday’s action seeks quicker court action.

Freed, a former mayor of Bothell who is Christian, is among a handful of Republicans who have said they hope to challenge Inslee in November. Candidate filing is not until May.

Freed contends restrictions in the stay-home order prevent him from conducting Bible study in his home. In a declaration filed Wednesday, Freed said he wanted to meet one-on-one with participants and would hold only one meeting a day.

He also said attendees would have their temperature checked, social distancing would be practiced and participants would be advised to bring mask and gloves. There would not be in-person sessions with individuals considered at high risk to the coronavirus due to their age or underlying health conditions, according to the documents.

Mike Faulk, Inslee’s press secretary, said legal counsel are reviewing the filings.

He noted that religious counseling is already deemed essential, but doing it remotely is strongly encouraged.

If that’s not possible, Faulk said, in-person counseling can be done while following social distancing and sanitization practices. The stay-home order does not prevent that.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald Twitter: @dospueblos.