Faith leaders call out Gov. Inslee as battle grows over religious freedoms during shutdown

TACOMA, Wash. -- Some faith leaders are sharing their frustration with Governor Jay Inslee and his stay home order.

Pastor Kevin Gerald from the Champions Centre Church, which has five locations across the state, says Governor Inslee is ignoring them and their congregations.

“How long are we going to be stuck streaming?" Gerald said. "What if we do want to gather? What if we want to gather and have safe meetings together?”

Gerald was part of a petition, signed by dozens of faith leaders. The petition questions why the governor's stay home order lists artists, musicians, and the media as essential, but not faith-based groups.

“It's an attitude toward the religious community that is on the verge of actually bullying," said Gerald.  "It’s on the verge of bullying in the sense that, ‘You’re going to do what I tell you to do and you don’t have anything to say about.'”

Republican candidate for governor Joshua Freed has something to say about it, in the form of a lawsuit filed against Governor Inslee.

“He is violating our first amendment rights," Freed said. "He is violating article number one of our own state constitution. That says we have the right to assemble and free speech and practice our religious beliefs freely.”

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, claims Governor Inslee has overstepped his authority in prohibiting religious freedoms, while making exceptions for other industries.

Freed said of Inslee, “He says you can go to a pot shop today, for instance, if you are feeling some anxiety and want to go buy some marijuana. You can go do that. But you can’t individually go alone and pray with a pastor. I mean that makes no logical sense.”

While not speaking directly to the lawsuit, Governor Inslee's Communications Director Tara Lee responded, saying in part, "There are a number of very important things that cannot be happening now, including religious services in churches or synagogues etc. This came up around Easter and we know that it was extremely difficult for people."

The statement went on to say, "The reason for doing all of this, as the governor has said is to slow the spread of this disease and save lives. This is the reason and we know it is extremely disruptive to people’s lives."

Pastor Gerald argued,  he has the space required to gather, while still practicing social distancing. He just wants the governor to have faith, in what he calls viable alternatives to the current order.

“I think if we’re ignored," Gerald said. That’s where the trouble is really going to start. Not just with me. There are going to be pastors and faith communities that are going to rise up, and they are going to say, we are going to make our own rules.”