Senior Staff Writer
CAMAS VALLEY — A local church leader said he joined a lawsuit challenging Gov. Kate Brown’s stay-at-home orders because he believes she is breaking the law.
Travis Hunt is the head teacher at Camas Valley Christian Fellowship. (His church doesn’t use the terms pastor or reverend, saying they are not biblical.)
Both Hunt and the church are plaintiffs in the suit, brought by a group of churches and churchgoers from around the state. They have argued their constitutional rights are being violated by the governor’s COVID-19 emergency orders limiting the number of people who may gather — for any event, church services included — to 25.
Hunt believes the governor is violating the principles laid out by American founding father James Madison, who wrote that a separation of powers between legislative, executive and judicial branches of government is necessary to prevent tyranny.
The plaintiffs are arguing in this case that the governor’s legal authority to issue stay-at-home orders during an emergency has a time limit under the law, and that she must receive authorization from the legislature to extend them.
“If no one takes a stand we will give up rights that were bought by the life and the death of many a patriot,” Hunt said.
A Baker County Circuit Court judge issued a ruling Monday that the governor’s stay at home orders became invalid after 28 days. If he’s right, that means churches and businesses should legally be able to reopen.
But the Oregon Supreme Court has blocked that order going into effect, at least for the time being. The supreme court was scheduled to hold a hearing on the case Friday.
Hunt said many people feel the need to gather with others, and at his church’s recent parking lot services he’s seen people cry.
Americans may think they’re antisocial, but the pandemic has taught us that we’re not, that we need a human connection from gatherings to hugs and handshakes, he said.
“I don’t know that America realized it. I don’t know if the world realized how much we really don’t want to be separate from each other. And I actually think that probably the underlying reason is we kind of love each other, honestly, and so we miss that,” he said.
Supporters of the governor’s position have said stay at home orders have helped flatten the curve, reducing the number of infections and saving Oregonians’ lives.
Hunt said he’s grateful to live in Douglas County, which has had no deaths and few cases of COVID-19. But he said he understands people’s concerns on both sides of the issue. He said there are people who think it’s the end of the world and people who think it’s a giant lie, that it’s just like another flu. He doesn’t want to wade into that bantering.
What he does hope is that everyone on both sides of the debate remembers to be loving toward the people on the other side.
“Regardless of the results of this COVID pandemic, regardless, those who are still here are going to have to live with each other and if we can’t live with each other in love and respect then we will have lost something greater than just a wave of illness that made its way through,” he said.
Hunt said he’s been criticized by other Christians, some of whom have quoted the book of Romans from the Bible, which speaks of submitting to governmental authority. However, Hunt said the Apostle Paul, who wrote the book of Romans, is depicted elsewhere in the Bible as appealing a governor’s decision to Caesar, a greater authority.
And that, Hunt said, is what he is doing in this case.
“I’ve appealed to the authority which is greater than the governor and asked that authority, ‘Is what the governor’s doing just?’ And if the end result is yeah, the government of the United States says what she is doing is legal, fair and just, well then that’s the world I live in,” he said.
If the plaintiffs succeed and the governor’s orders are invalidated, he hopes that doesn’t lead to risky behavior. People should still take precautions like wearing masks, he said.
“If all of her executive orders are null and void, please, everyone still for the sake of love take the precautions necessary to protect the life of other people. Don’t just go crazy with your rights. Set aside your rights for the sake of love for others,” he said.