Chancery Court/NCC Courthouse

The restrictions imposed on religious activities in Delaware early during the COVID-19 pandemic are not forgotten.

The state wants to dismiss lawsuits that were filed by two church leaders in December 2021 that sought to keep the state from restricting church activities in any way in the future. In turn, the plaintiffs want to keep their case alive and are seeking injunctive relief.

Tuesday, both sides were in the courtroom of Court of Chancery Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster.

The Carney administration has enlisted the services of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati. The firm's Andrew Cordo pointed out that although the original complaint was filed in late 2021, there have been no restrictions on any religious activities in Delaware since June 2020. He added that motion for a preliminary or permanent injunction to block health-related restrictions on matters such as attendance and methodology of how services are conducted currently lacks a "reasonable apprehension element" and the imposition of possible measures in the future is "purely speculative."

Cordo also said that through 28 months and through the surges caused by the Delta and Omicron variants, there were no restrictions imposed - therefore there is nothing to support any claims of damages or injunctive relief.

Reverend Alan Hines of Townsend and Reverend David Landow of north Wilmington were represented by Stephen Neuberger of The Neuberger Firm. Neuberger contended that due to the nature of COVID-19 it was just a matter of time when it would return and cases would start to increase. He cited several recent news reports to that effect. 

Neuberger contended that the need for an injunction was pressing and that the matter is far from moot. He added that waiting until the state considers or implements restrictions would cost precious time and deprive church leaders and their congregations of important services.

"Not having one single service constitutes irreparable harm," Neuberger said.

The plaintiffs cite the Bill of Rights in the Delaware Constitution that the free exercise of religious worship shall not be interfered with.

Cordo, during rebuttal, said the Governor was not arguing that he has the right to violate the Constitution, and that churches were never actually closed. A limit of ten people at a service, however, led many churches to cancel in-person services or go to online services.

"We need to nip this in the bud now," Neuberger said.

Vice Chancellor Laster said he would consider the arguments before making his decision. 

Mark is a veteran broadcast-journalist in Delaware.  Mark, a Claymont native, is a former President of the Delaware Press Association and      Chesapeake AP Broadcasters Association.