Televangelist Sues Colorado Over Public Health Orders That Limit Religious Gatherings

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Gov. Jared Polis announces a statewide mask order on July 16, 2020.

A lawsuit against Gov. Jared Polis and the director of Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment challenges restrictions affecting religious gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The conservative nonprofit Liberty Counsel filed the suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Denver on behalf of Andrew Wommack Ministries.

The lawsuit claims the state is "discriminating against religious gatherings with restricted numerical and capacity limitations that are not imposed on non-religious gatherings," according to Liberty Counsel.

The group is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunctions on multiple coronavirus-related public health orders. Specifically, the lawsuit challenges Colorado's limits on gatherings that cap events at 175 people.

According to the lawsuit, Andrew Wommack Ministries' "capacity for hosting religious conferences, meetings and events is large, and its campus is capable of far exceeding the arbitrary numerical limitations disparately imposed."

The Christian ministry plans to host a conference for pastors in Woodland Park starting Oct. 5. The organization is affiliated with Charis Bible College, also founded by church leader and televangelist Andrew Wommack.

The lawsuit says that the college's 652 students must attend the conference as part of the education program and that outside pastors and ministers are also invited to participate.

This summer, health officials linked a large COVID-19 outbreak to a bible conference hosted by Andrew Wommack Ministries near Colorado Springs. While the Teller County health department pre-approved the conference, the state said it received information that conference events would likely exceed the 175-person limit mandated by public health orders.

In July, the Colorado Attorney General's office sent a cease-and-desist letter to the group, which resulted in it moving another conference in August online.

In response, Andrew Wommack Ministries said it sent a letter raising concerns that the state's public health orders "were not being enforced equally against numerous non-religious protest gatherings."

The lawsuit cites various protests over police brutality, racism and the deaths of unarmed Black people as examples of the state not evenly enforcing social distancing and other rules around public gatherings.

In an email, Gov. Polis' office said it would not comment on pending litigation.

Liberty Counsel is a legal nonprofit focused on what it calls evangelical Christian values. The Southern Poverty Law Center designates it as a hate group that is anti-LGBTQ.