NEW YORK — Minnesota’s Catholic bishops have informed the state’s governor that they will return to in-person Church services later this month in defiance of an executive order imposing strict limits on houses of worship. 

In a letter sent to Governor Tim Walz on May 20, Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis said that services would resume on May 26, two months after they were first voluntarily suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We do not take this step lightly. We sought all along to engage you and your administration in a proactive way, and continue to be willing to do so,” wrote Hebda.

He continued: “It concerns us, however, that we still are without a clear roadmap, metrics, or definite timeline from your administration about a phased re-opening.”

The governor issued an executive order on May 13 which allows for a phased re-opening of shopping malls and other retailers at a fifty percent capacity, however it limits the number of worshippers for religious services to ten people per venue — which Hebda deemed a “step backward” given that no restrictions for religious groups were previously in place and that in-person services had been voluntarily instituted. 

“Your willingness, at the same time, to allow a ‘click forward’ for other sectors and activities on your dial-many of which cannot be classified as essential as the life of faith, prompts us to consider it necessary to move forward,” wrote the archbishop. 

Minnesota’s Catholic bishops are also being joined by The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Minnesota in opposing the executive order and are being represented by Becket, a religious liberty law firm. 

“From the first, and throughout this pandemic, the Churches have been good public citizens, suspending public worship, continuing to minister to the sick, the infirm, and the incarcerated as best they could, and generally supporting the stern restrictive measures necessary to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus,” wrote Eric Rassbach, Vice President and Senior Counsel at Becket, in a letter to Walz and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. 

The 9-page letter argues that the current executive order is a violation of the free exercise of religion and that houses of worship are capable of operating in a hygienic way at 33 percent capacity, which is “less than the capacity allowed for even non-essential retail.”

“As has been the case over the past few months, the Churches remain happy to work with you and your administration to ensure religion’s non-discriminatory treatment,” the letter concludes. “We hope you do so.”

Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212