Fourth Judicial District Judge David Prince issued a temporary restraining order at a Friday morning court hearing to force Andrew Wommack Ministries to comply with pandemic-related public health orders during a large minister’ conference that began Monday in Woodland Park.
“Plaintiffs have presented more than ample evidence in support of their motion,” indicating Andrew Wommack Ministries has more than 175 individuals per room at its ministers conference and attendees are violating facial mask and social distancing requirements, the court order states.
The intent is not to close down the conference, County Administrator Sheryl Decker said in an email. The weeklong conference was scheduled to end Friday at noon, after a worship service and several talks.
"The county and the state always sought compliance with the public health orders in effect, and have, on multiple occasions, made suggestions on how they can modify their conferences to comply," Decker said. "We expect Andrew Wommack to comply with the court orders issued this morning."
Teller County Public Health and Environment, in conjunction with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment filed a complaint Thursday that Andrew Wommack Ministries is not in compliance with pandemic-related state public health restrictions.
A video posted on Facebook on Monday, the first day of the five-day conference, showed participants sitting closely in the campus’ auditorium, which seats 3,150 people, not wearing masks while singing and yelling, according to the public health departments’ complaint.
Wommack spokeswoman Eileen Quinn told The Gazette Thursday that the conference was livestreamed on the campus with about 650 students of Charis Bible College, guest pastors and staff seated separately in zoned areas of the facility.
Despite what the video showed, Wommack's attorneys from Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based nonprofit group that engages in litigation related to evangelical Christian values, have said that "extraordinary" safety precautions are being taken at the conference to protect attendees and staff.
Social distancing has been in place, Wommack Ministries has said, and all staff and volunteers are wearing masks, temperature checks and COVID-19 screenings have been done before anyone enters the property, which has a one-way pedestrian flow, and other measures. Attendees were not required to wear masks.
A two-week legal saga began Sept. 28, when Liberty Counsel filed a federal lawsuit in Andrew Wommack Ministries' behalf against Gov. Jared Polis and local and state health departments.
The lawsuit claimed the state's 175-person cap on indoor gatherings violates First Amendment rights and discriminates against religious organizations.
A U.S. District Court judge in Denver denied the complaint, which Wommacks’ attorneys appealed. The appeal, heard by a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, was denied on Monday, right before the conference started. But the conference has been going on all week on the Wommack campus.
Liberty Counsel abruptly withdrew the lawsuit Thursday, after a federal judge said she would rule on a complaint the public health departments filed in federal court to hold Andrew Wommack Ministries in contempt for violating public health orders.
Teller County Public Health and Environment traced 40 infections of COVID-19 and 23 presumed positive cases among participants and staff at a summer family Bible conference Wommack held on its campus June 29-July 3. Two hospitalizations and one death resulted, the health department said in its complaint.
Andrew Wommack had said he had permission from the local public health department to hold the conference. Liberty Counsel attorneys said the virus could not be clearly traced to the event.