Commissioner Bill Lee town hall/Rally for Liberty 13

An attendee holds a sign as he and others listen to a speaker during the Rally for Liberty held at Orem City Center Park on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

A group of Utah parents filed a lawsuit against Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Department of Health on Thursday alleging that Utahns have “experienced an unprecedented and unlawful suspension of their most sacred and fundamental rights” as a result of executive actions taken by the governor during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three of the eight parents represented in the lawsuit are from Utah County, while the others are residents of Weber, Salt Lake, Summit and Iron counties.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Utah’s 4th District Court in Provo, said that Herbert has issued about 63 executive documents since March 6, including declared states of emergency and mask requirements in state facilities and K-12 public schools.

The lawsuit lists 29 ways that Herbert’s actions have deprived the parents of their rights, including “den(ying) Utahns the right to worship freely” and “depriv(ing) the people of their access to justice.”

It also accuses Herbert of denying “children their right of education and open schools” and parents of “their fundamental familial rights including the right to manage their child’s education,” as well as denying Utahns “their most fundamental rights of human contact and touch” and “imprison(ing) the people against their will through unlawful quarantine.”

“These ongoing irreparable harms demand immediate action,” Morgan Philpot, an attorney for the plaintiffs, wrote in the lawsuit. “The court should not permit any continued violations of the law, nor any further denial of Plaintiffs’ rights, or the rights of their children, under statutory law and under the United States and Utah Constitutions.”

The attorney requested that the court declare all executive orders and actions related to COVID-19 to be “null and void, and no longer in effect” and to enjoin state and school officials “from taking any official action to Executive Orders” issued prior to or after Aug. 20.

“The court should immediately and permanently enjoin (the) Defendants, including Utah’s system of public schools, from: the enforcement of each provision of all the relevant orders, results and regulations discussed herein … (and) committing any further violations of their statutory and constitutional duties,” the lawsuit said. “If necessary, the court should recuse the parties, including any officers and agents, from all discretionary actions and decisions related to the state of emergency and the orders, rules and regulations.”

The lawsuit also cites the Book of Mormon as evidence that Utahns’ rights have been infringed on, arguing that “most of the early framers of Utah’s Constitution held to a belief that this land was consecrated by God himself as ‘a land of liberty,” (and) that liberty included the right to ‘worship God according to their desires,’ and that human law did not have a right to ‘dictate forms for public or private devotion.’”

“Rarely, if ever, has a court of law been so blessed with an abundantly clear and available record of state Constitution, including its history, principles and ideals,” the lawsuit said.

The governor’s office could not be reached on Monday to comment on the lawsuit but has previously said it does not comment on ongoing and pending litigation.

Throughout the pandemic, Utah County residents have been outspoken in opposition coronavirus-related restrictions, including by packing a Utah County Commission meeting in July to oppose mask requirements in K-12 schools, holding a “Rally for Liberty” against masks in August and filing a citizen’s referendum in September in opposition to the Provo Municipal Council’s face mask mandate.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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