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Southern Oregon Church Drops Lawsuit Against Gov. Brown As Phase 2 Reopening Begins

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A Josephine County church suing Gov. Kate Brown in federal court over pandemic-related restrictions on worship services announced Friday they are exiting the lawsuit.

Churches were able to resume services over the weekend during Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plans.

Matt Heverly is the lead pastor of Edgewater Christian Fellowship in Grants Pass. He said the Governor’s approval for Josephine County to hold indoor gatherings of up to 250 people makes the lawsuit unnecessary for them.

“Everything that we could have wanted, the administration has listened and we’re very pleased with the direction that they’ve gone. So, for us there’s no reason to go on,” Heverly says.

Edgewater Christian Fellowship and Douglas County’s Roseburg Church of God of Prophecy sued Gov. Brown, arguing her executive order aimed at slowing the coronavirus pandemic constituted a ban on religious assembly.

Edgewater was one of many churches nationwide being represented by law firm Alliance Defending Freedom during the coronavirus pandemic. Heverly says churches should have been treated with the same flexibility as restaurants and gyms during the Phase 1 reopening.

Josephine County was one of 29 counties in Oregon approved to enter Phase 2 of reopening beginning on Friday.

Heverly says his church's services usually hold 900 people, so they’re well suited for social distancing with just 250 people per service. But he’s still recommending those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 to stay home.

“I would recommend, if you’re in that very vulnerable class, wait this thing out a little bit more,” Heverly says. “Make sure that you’re doing everything that you know, now with three months of education, to keep yourself healthy.”

Representatives from Roseburg Church of God of Prophecy in Douglas County could not be reached for comment about whether their lawsuit status had changed.

Erik Neumann is the interim news director at Jefferson Public Radio. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.