One lone pastor in Maine is standing up for people in recovery, for his congregation, for his local community, for his state, and for the U.S. Constitution: Pastor Ken Graves of Calvary Chapel in Bangor, Maine.
Graves has dedicated his life to helping people recover from addiction, alcoholism and other problems, and has sought to create a safe haven for them. Up to 48 people can live and recover on the property of the church Graves leads but if Gov. Janet Mills has her way this would be cancelled as part of an ongoing attempt to cancel Christianity and restorative culture.
Calvary Chapel of Bangor Maine is facing criminal charges, fines, and even imprisonment for trying to help people live their lives in a safe, healthy and restorative way.
Graves has his own powerful story of redemption, but so do many of his congregants and neighbors, and a countless number of people he has helped through his ministry over the years.
Now, his case could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Represented by Liberty Counsel, Calvary Chapel contends that Gov. Janet Mills’ orders prohibiting and severely restricting religious assembly and worship is unconstitutional.
The church’s lawsuit and appeals process began in May and ultimately reached the First Circuit Court of Appeals, when Liberty Counsel presented oral arguments before its three-judge panel Sept. 9.
The same scrutiny being mandated for houses of worship is not being imposed on “essential” commercial and non-religious entities, including liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, warehouse clubs, and big box stores, the lawsuit alleges.
The governor initially prohibited all religious gatherings, including holding services in parking lots. The initial order stipulated that violators would face criminal penalties of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
After Liberty Counsel sued, the governor said at some point in the future she would allow “very limited worship,” but only after churches applied with the state to re-open, were approved to reopen, and displayed a badge on the outside of the building signifying it had the state’s approval to be open.
“The government wrongly presumes to have the authority to violate our constitutionally guaranteed and God-given rights to freedom of religion and peaceful assembly,” Graves contends.
Throughout the litigation, Mills has “haphazardly changed and reinterpreted her restrictions on churches” and religious organizations, Liberty Counsel argues, even after she first relaxed and later re-imposed restrictions on many businesses and entities based on her evaluation of the “public health metrics.”
“Governor Mills has constantly moved the goalposts throughout this litigation to avoid accountability for her unconstitutional orders,” Liberty Counsel Assistant Vice President of Legal Affairs Roger Gannam said.
The orders were initially announced as an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, which reports all case data it receives from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as of data reported through Sept. 14, there have been 4,918 coronavirus cases in Maine. Among them, 4,415 are confirmed and 503 are probable. There are 432 hospitalizations, 4,280 recoveries, and 137 coronavirus-related deaths.
As a percentage of Maine’s 1.34 million population, coronavirus deaths represent 0.001 percent. The state does not report which deaths were associated with comorbidity factors, nor does it report false positive test resultss.
Critics argue the state should have already fully reopened in light of this data; instead, policies solely restricting houses of worship continue.
Under the currently challenged orders, houses of worship can hold “secular but not religious” activities, including providing food, shelter and social services to an unlimited number of people.
Although Calvary Chapel serves the needs of the greater community and is committed to teaching and preaching the whole counsel of God, the heart of its ministry is a yearlong live-in recovery program for addicts. At any given time, 48 people “relearning life” live on church property. Their lives and activities cannot be relegated into secular versus religious categories, Graves argues.
The governor deemed substances to which people were addicted as “essential” and permitted secular services in the same church building where she also prohibited the same people from participating in religious services. Those in recovery were permitted to meet for substance abuse support but were prohibited from participating in a yearlong program that includes studying the Bible, praying and worshiping.
“The moment a Bible is opened – even as part of a life skills, food, shelter or addiction program – the entire operation violates Gov. Mills’ illegal orders,” Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement.
“All houses of worship have special protections under the First Amendment [and] cannot be unequally treated or relegated to second class status,” he added. “The First Amendment deems churches to be ‘essential.’”
At the hearing, a judge asked the state’s attorney if the governor’s order allowed employees working at “essential businesses” to gather at the beginning of their shift to review their tasks for the day, to which he answered, “yes.”
The judge then asked what would happen if a morally uplifting message was delivered at the meeting. The attorney replied, “I was afraid of hypothetical questions like this.”
“He never did answer the question because he couldn’t – without admitting the governor was wrong,” Staver said.
“The fact that Governor Mills would allow many exemptions to all sorts of services, but only if those services do not include worship, is proof that shutdown orders discriminate against churches and people of faith,” he added.
The appeals court has yet to rule on the matter.
If it rules in the favor of Calvary Chapel, Liberty Counsel would go back to the trial court to complete the litigation. The state could also seek review in the U.S. Supreme Court.
If the appellate court rules against the church, it will seek review in the U.S. Supreme Court. Liberty Counsel may also proceed with trial court litigation while also preparing its Supreme Court petition.
Meanwhile, the church has resumed indoor services, following social distancing and sanitary guidelines. Graves continues to preach and has no plans on backing down.
Instead, Graves argues,
“There is a war going on. It’s a spiritual war between truth and deception.
“Only one thing cuts through all the lies and opinions of man. It is the truth of an ancient book that we call the Bible.
“It is God’s Word. It is God’s Sword.”
He goes on to discuss one argument made about the case in part in his sermon on Psalm 92-93.