New Hampshire ban on large gatherings challenged in court

Associated Press

HOPKINTON, N.H. (March 19, 2020) — Three people who planned to attend political and religious events in the next few weeks are challenging New Hampshire's statewide emergency ban on gatherings of 50 people or more to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

David Binford, Eric Couture and Holly Rae Beene filed a lawsuit Tuesday, the day after Republican Gov. Chris Sununu issued the order prohibiting large scheduled gatherings for social, spiritual and recreational activities. They argue there is no emergency, and that the governor is violating their constitutional rights.

“We can choose to assemble if that is our desire. What cannot occur is one man in a position of power deciding to strip us of our rights in the name of safety and without due process,” Couture said in press release.

A judge on Wednesday denied the group's request for an immediate order halting enforcement of the ban and scheduled a hearing for Friday in Merrimack County Superior Court. A spokesman for Sununu said Thursday that the emergency order is consistent with actions taken across the country and is clearly within the governor's authority.

“We are confident the court will agree,” said Ben Vihdstadt.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs describe a variety of events they planned to attend, including meetings of the Grafton County Republican committee, services and Sunday school at a Baptist church and a Meetup group to discuss “petitioning the government for redress of grievances.” The complaint also mentions buying food at a supermarket, though the order does not apply to shopping for food. It does, however, prohibit on-site dining at restaurants.

“We ask others to let the governor's office know that they are opposed to living under a government that controls the people, instead of the other way around,” said the plaintiffs' attorney, Daniel Hynes.

Nearly 40 people have tested positive in New Hampshire for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough, and the vast majority recover. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

In Ohio, where Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has taken one of the more aggressive anti-virus approaches, businesses and civic groups have largely supported the closure of restaurants and bars, part of one of the most aggressive anti-virus approaches nationally. Those include the state Chamber of Commerce, Manufacturers' Association and an alliance of mayors.

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