Federal judge shoots down plan for wedding

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A local couple will not be having the big wedding they hoped for after a federal judge shot down their request to hold the event at a Holland venue.

The law firm representing the couple and the Holland event center asked a federal judge to issue an emergency order allowing the wedding to take place Friday despite the governor’s executive orders limiting the size of these types of events.

But the judge did not do so, which could be an indication as to whether this case will be successful as it moves forward.

Robert Muise, of the controversial American Freedom Law Cent, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Baker Events in Holland and the Byron Center couple David Van Slokema and Kilie Stuller who hoped to have their wedding and reception there.

Muise said Baker Events contacted his firm and then the couple was asked to join the suit.

“The bride and groom, they want to have their wedding as they planned it back in May and right now, the governor and the Ottawa County Department of Health is saying no, so we asked the courts to step in,” Muise said.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Holland wedding federal lawsuit

Ottawa County Counsel Doug Van Essen said there is a clear distinction between worship services and weddings and receptions.

“The governor has said worship services are being treated somewhat differently than these other events,” Van Essen said.

The lawsuit argues that both the wedding and reception are part of a religious service and should be given the same deference that worships services are given that allows them to operate outside of the mandate, limiting indoor events to no more than 10 people.

The lawsuit says the First Amendment practice of religion rights are being violated.

The suit also says that since restaurants can operate at 50% capacity, the reception should be allowed.

“A wedding reception, where you have 190 people would be much different from a COVID-19 transmission aspect,” Van Essen said. “There’s a prolonged nature to weddings — people tend to come all at one time, there’s a receiving line, there are special events.”

But Thursday, Judge Robert Jonker rejected the First Amendment argument because the couple is still having the wedding, though at a much smaller scale.

Jonker’s decision says in part: “There is nothing in the executive orders or the health department cease and desist order that prevents the bride and groom from being married this Friday in a ceremony that freely expresses their love and commitment to each other and their religious beliefs, and that results in a marital union fully recognized by church and state.”

The Judge also pointed out that “First Amendment cases typically focus on core expressive rights like public demonstrations and core religious practice like regularly scheduled worship services.”

The case still moves forward in federal court.

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