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News / Clark County News

Federal court denies Patriot Prayer leader’s request on COVID-19 restrictions before Vancouver rally

By Mike Carter, The Seattle Times
Published: December 5, 2020, 7:51am

A federal judge has refused to issue an emergency order sought by Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson that would prevent him from being arrested or prosecuted for a prayer rally he has planned today in Vancouver.

Gibson filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma on Nov. 30 challenging some of Gov. Jay Inslee’s most recent COVID-19 restrictions, claiming they violate Constitutionally guaranteed religious liberties. Gibson, who is described in the lawsuit as a “street preacher,” then sought an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order seeking to prevent police from stopping, arresting or charging him at a protest that violates those restrictions, according to court documents and his attorney, Angus Lee.

Gibson is particularly incensed that the restrictions ban congregational singing during religious services, but not elsewhere, Lee said. Inslee, Gibson believes, “is unconstitutionally restricting religious freedoms,” the lawyer said.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle on Thursday rejected Gibson’s emergency motion outright, and at the same time granted a motion by Attorney General Bob Ferguson to intervene in the lawsuit and represent the governor.

The judge said the “emergency” under which Gibson sought to prevent his arrest or prosecution was of his own making. Gibson chose to file the lawsuit five days before the prayer rally, not giving the city or the state a reasonable chance to respond.

“Gibson’s generalized claims against the Governor’s COVID-19 Proclamations as presently pled are hypothetical, are not ripe, and are not justiciable,” the judge wrote.

Settle questioned whether Gibson has standing to file a lawsuit and could not meet the requirements for a “pre-enforcement challenge” to Vancouver police or prosecutors. The order stopped short of dismissing the lawsuit entirely, and Lee said Gibson intends to pursue an injunction.

Meanwhile, Lee said Gibson plans to go forward with his rally Saturday afternoon at Gretchen Fraser Neighborhood Park in Vancouver, where he says 20 protesters will gather in a softball diamond, standing 6 feet apart, and then pray and sing for a half hour. Lee said Gibson fears he will be targeted by police and prosecutors for his protest.

Patriot Prayer is a right-wing Vancouver-based extremist group frequently involved in confrontations with anti-fascist groups and it has sometimes drawn white supremacists to its rallies.