Colorado health officials petition court to stop 700-person religious conference amid coronavirus

Religious group claims the ban on mass outdoor gatherings is unconstitutional

Colorado health officials have asked a district judge to stop a weeks-long conference held by Andrew Wommack Ministries Inc., a religious group that sued Gov. Jared Polis, along with state health officials, for discrimination over coronavirus-related restrictions on large gatherings.

The religious group proceeded with a 700-person conference this week after the state’s 10th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a plea from the group Monday, requesting to be exempt from state's mandate limiting outdoor gatherings to 175 people.

Health officials Jaqueline Revello and Jill Hunsaker Ryan, from Teller county, and the state's Departments of Public Health and Environment, reportedly filed a request with the U.S. District Court late Tuesday, requesting that they end the conference early, which is set to last through Friday.

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“Plaintiff has put its interests ahead of the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Teller County, the State of Colorado, and each location across the country from which conference attendees have traveled from and to where they will return after the conference,” attorneys for Teller County wrote, according to the motion obtained by the Denver Post. “[The] plaintiff’s actions and statements indicate its belief that it is somehow above the law and can do whatever it pleases."

The state’s Attorney General's office previously submitted a cease and desist letter to AWMI during a June event that drew in over 800 people, and reportedly resulted in 63 confirmed cases of coronavirus and one coronavirus-related death, according to Colorado's contact tracing.

Wommack Ministries in turn filed a lawsuit against the governor, along with state and county health officials, calling for a temporary restraining order and argued that the state mandate on group gatherings was unconstitutional.

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Mat Staver, Founder of the Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christain advocacy group who is also representing Wommack Ministries, said he did not believe the death could be traced back to the group's July event.

Staver said Tuesday's motion requesting an injunction "wrongly alleges, with no evidence presented, that Wommack Ministries caused an 'outbreak' during its summer conference."

He further pointed to the state's Public Health and Environment website, which states, "It is possible that a person may have been exposed elsewhere (and we can rarely prove where any individual was exposed with a person-to-person pathogen.)"

However, Staver told Fox News that the county and state health departments have legal basis for their motion.

"They're asking the federal court to stop all future conferences that [Wommack Ministries] would undertake, the problem is they have cited no law that gives them that basis to even ask the request, and more over, the public health orders allow [Wommack Ministries] to have 175 people in segregated rooms," Staver said.

Colorado has reported more than 74,000 confirmed cases and nearly 2,100 coronavirus related deaths, since the pandemic began.

Health officials have also reported a recent rise in hospitalizations from the virus, which are believed to be a result of an increase in cases after Labor Day.

“We’ve got to do better to avoid overwhelming our hospitals,” Polis said during a Tuesday press conference. “That means doubling down on the basics: wearing a mask social distancing, keeping activities and interactions outside where possible, washing hands regularly.”

Health officials warned against a likely increase in cases during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, adding that the contagion rate, currently hovering around 1.25, needs to be below 1.

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“That is not sustainable," Polis said. "You can be at 1.25 for a few weeks, but it is exponential. You cannot be at the number for months at a time or you overwhelm your hospitals -- just like we did in July, we need a gut check."

Fox News could not immediately reach the governor’s office for comment.