State Watch

Wisconsin salon owner claims coronavirus shutdown order violates freedom of religion

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The owner of a faith-based hair salon in Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit arguing the state’s coronavirus safer-at-home order violates her First Amendment rights to freedom of religion, speech and assembly, WBAY reported Wednesday.

The suit from Jessica Netzel, owner of Kingdom Kuts in Appleton, Wis., named defendants as Gov. Tony Evers (D), Appleton Police Chief Todd L. Thomas and Department of Health Services Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm.

Netzel claims that her hair salon, as the name implies, is a ministry.

The lawsuit states that there are spiritual references throughout the salon and Netzel “sincerely believes that she is to share her faith with others through her work at Kingdom Kuts.”

Earlier this month, Appleton Police officers were called to Kingdom Kuts and informed Netzel that she was in violation of the safer-at-home order and could face fines, loss of license or criminal charges.

Police reportedly issued a “cease and desist” letter on May 7, which Netzel claims to have received May 11.

Officers returned to the salon on May 9 and told the owner that she was being referred to the Outagamie County District Attorney for criminal prosecution.

The lawsuit, obtained by WBAY, states that an officer informed her on May 11 that she would face additional charges.   

Netzel’s suit claims the order violates her First Amendment rights to religion, freedom and speech, as well as the right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

The motion asks for the U.S. District Court to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, pending a trial. It also requests that Appleton Police Chief Thomas to revoke the cease and desist warning.

Evers extended the safer-at-home order through May 26 but released guidance on Monday that would allow the reopening of certain nonessential businesses, libraries and golf courses with social distancing requirements.

However, personal care businesses like hair salons, barber shops, nail salons and tattoo parlors are still not permitted open. 

Religious entities, while deemed essential, may not hold gatherings with more than 10 people in a room or confined space at a time and everyone must practice social distancing.

Evers’s extension was initially met with pushback.

The Republican-led Wisconsin legislature sued to block the enforcement of the directive, arguing the emergency order went beyond the executive branch’s statutory powers.

Thousands of protesters, many not practicing social distancing, descended on the Wisconsin Capitol on April 24 to call for the coronavirus restrictions to be lifted.

Tags Appleton coronavirus pandemic first amendment Freedom of religion hair salon Safe at Home Tony Evers Wisconsin
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