Appleton salon owner claims business is ministry, Safer at Home violates Freedom of Religion

Published: May. 13, 2020 at 11:11 AM CDT
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An Appleton hair salon owner has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the Safer at Home order violates her right to free exercise of religion, speech and assembly under the First Amendment.

The suit filed by Jessica Netzel in United States District Court in Green Bay names defendants as Gov. Tony Evers, Appleton Police Chief Todd L. Thomas and Department of Health Services Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm.

The claim states that the order violates the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment.

Netzel owns Kingdom Kuts at 132 East Wisconsin Ave in Appleton. The suit claims that Kingdom Kuts is a faith based business.

Netzel has opened the hair salon despite the governor's Safer at Home order that prohibits such businesses from opening due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit states Kingdom Kuts "as the name implies, is a ministry of Plaintiff Ms. Netzel. Scriptural references are placed about the business. Ms. Netzel sincerely believes that she is to share her faith with others through her work at Kingdom Kuts."

On May 6, Appleton Police officers went to Kingdom Kuts and informed Neztel that she was violating the order and she could face fines, loss of license, or criminal charges, according to the lawsuit.

On May 7, police issued a "cease and desist" letter to Kingdom Kuts and Netzel. Netzel claims she received it on May 11.

On May 9, police went to Kingdom Kuts and told Netzel that she was being referred to the Outagamie County District Attorney for criminal prosecution, according to the lawsuit.

On May 11, an officer went to Kingdom Kuts and said Netzel would face additional charges, according to the lawsuit.

Netzel also takes issue that Safer at Home prohibits her from "participating in person worship services." People are prohibited from gathering for services at places of worship.

Netzel states Safer at Home violates Right to Free Exercise of Religion Under the First Amendment, Right to Freedom of Assembly Under the First Amendment, Right to Freedom of Speech Under the First Amendment and Right to Equal Protection Under the Fourteenth Amendment.

She also claims Safer at Home violates Wisconsin's Constitution.

The lawsuit asks for the United States District Court to issue a Temporary Restraining Order from enforcing Safer at Home or threatening to enforce it on her business, and a Preliminary Injunction pending trial.

She's also asking Appleton Police Chief Thomas to revoke the cease and desist warning.

Chief Thomas released the following statement: "We are aware of the difficult position people and businesses are in. We will continue to use compassionate discretion on enforcement of the orders and allow the courts to decide the disposition of any alleged offense. Because of pending litigation, we are unable to offer any additional comment at this time."

A summons states the defendants have 21 days to respond to the lawsuit.

The case has been assigned to Judge William C Griesbach.

The Republican-led Wisconsin Legislature challenged an extension of the Safer at Home order to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The high court has yet to make a ruling.

The governor's public emergency, issued on Marcy 12, expired on May 12. Wisconsin law states a public emergency cannot last no longer than 60 days. The governor instructed the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to extend Safer at Home until May 26. The legislature claims DHS does not have the power to do so under state law.

The Supreme Court

There's no indication of when the Supreme Court will make a ruling.