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Maryland governor sued by state lawmakers, pastors and businesses over stay-at-home orders

Protests intensify as dozens of states ease restrictions

Washington — State lawmakers, businesses, veterans and pastors in Maryland have mounted a legal challenge to Governor Larry Hogan's stay-at-home orders imposed to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Baltimore against Hogan and state health officials by a coalition that includes four state delegates and the group ReOpen Maryland, which organized protests across the state Saturday against the stay-at-home orders.

The plaintiffs argue the orders issued by Hogan during the coronavirus epidemic violate the U.S. Constitution and Maryland's state constitution, and they are asking the court to block Hogan and state officials from enforcing the stay-at-home mandates. The group also says there are less restrictive options than prohibitions on certain businesses and religious gatherings available to Hogan, a Republican.

"A great object of our union has been to uniformly advance and protect both the personal rights of individuals and of commerce, while not hindering the states from advancing those same rights at equal or greater pace," the delegates, pastors and businesses say in their complaint. "The object has never been to permit a governor to make a 'neighbor's' rights or interests in health superior to the people's or even to another citizen's natural and inalienable rights. The problem in Maryland is that Governor Hogan has done the reverse, even after being repeatedly petitioned to limit his power."

A spokesperson for Hogan did not immediately return a request for comment.

Hogan, like many of the nation's governors, has issued executive orders temporarily imposing restrictions on businesses and Maryland residents during the coronavirus pandemic. The state's death toll stands at more than 1,000.

Under the orders, gatherings of more than 10 people, including religious gatherings, are prohibited.  Businesses deemed nonessential are also prohibited from operating during a state of emergency, which Hogan declared in early March, and residents were told to stay in their homes except to participate in essential activities.

But pressure is mounting on governors to begin easing rules on businesses that have been devastated by the pandemic's economic effects, with protesters descending on state capitals across the country in opposition to continued restrictions.

The White House has provided governors with guidelines for when they should begin moving toward a phased reopening, which includes several criteria they should meet that indicate a slowing in the spread of the coronavirus.

But Hogan on Sunday resisted calls to lift the stay-at-home orders and said he is focused on trying to reopen his state in a "slow, safe and effective manner."

"Everybody has a right to protest and express their feelings," Hogan told CNN, referencing the protesters. "Sadly, we had far more people die yesterday in Maryland than we had protesters."

Three members of the state House of Delegates — Dan Cox, Warren Miller, Neil Parrott and Robin Grammer — claim in the lawsuit that they are deprived of "exercising their constitutional oversight of the government," as well as their right to free speech and to peacefully assemble. The lawsuit also alleges that Cox, who was scheduled to address a protest against Hogan's stay-at-home orders Saturday, was warned by a member of law enforcement that he would be arrested if he attended the rally.

The religious leaders, meanwhile, claim the orders barring religious gatherings of more than 10 people unfairly applies to houses of worship, as big box stores and other entities including liquor stores have been allowed to continue operating. Additionally, they say their congregations do not have the equipment to broadcast services online or conduct drive-in services, as has been done elsewhere.

Businesses named in the suit, Antietam Battlefield Kampgrounds of America and Adventure Park USA, argue they have lost revenue due to required closures.

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