At the heart of the case pastors and small businesses across the state claim, the governor's COVID-19 health orders restrict their right to assemble.

WESTFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Western Mass News is getting answers from Governor Charlie Baker after a lawsuit filed against him is now being petitioned to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

At the heart of the case pastors and small businesses across the state claim, the governor's COVID-19 health orders restrict their right to assemble. The state's highest court previously upheld the governor's emergency authority under the Civil Defense Act.

Governor Baker told Western Mass News he doesn’t usually tend to comment on pending litigation but he said he is confident that by August 1, the Commonwealth won’t be in the position to need capacity limits or other emergency orders.

“The vast majority of the guidance and the advisories that we put in place over the course of the past 15 months have been pretty consistent with the public health recommendations that have come from either the feds or from our colleagues at DPH and are pretty consistent with what most other states have done as well,” Baker said.

Baker took on Western Mass News questions about the lawsuit that is now being petitioned to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs are a group of small businesses and churches seeking to end the enforcement of Baker’s emergency health orders that have been issued during the pandemic like capacity limits.

Per the governor's orders, the state is slated to fully reopen by August 1, and Baker said the lifting of the restrictions may also mean the end to his emergency orders.

“That would certainly be a time in which we would go to some sort of a standard that I would call traditional public health standard and not something that would operate under the rubric of an EO [executive order],” Baker said.

The New Civil Liberties Alliance, the organization that filed on behalf of the petitioners, couldn't say whether their case would be heard by the highest court before their term ends in late June or early July.

But the NCLA said even if the August 1 reopening date is used the question of Baker's power would still remain.

“He can go ahead, and he can end all the restrictions on August 1. Does that mean that he ends the emergency? Maybe, maybe not it’s completely up to him,” NCLA representative Mike Degrandis said.

A local pastor from Westfield, who is named as a plaintiff, said his concern is about the First Amendment.

“I would like to see the governor recognize our First Amendment right to worship without government interference. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to be safe,” Pioneer Valley Baptist Church Pastor Jim Montoro said.

There is no timeline for when this case could be heard before the Supreme Court.

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RuralResident

In order to maintain their exemption from federal income taxes, churches and other religious organizations must comply with several requirements specified in section 501(c)(3) of the tax code. One of these requirements is that the organization not participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office. Another requirement is that the organization not engage in substantial efforts to influence legislation.

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