Amid extensive legal back-and-forth, Colorado-based Andrew Wommack Ministries International (AWMI) proceeded with its Charis Minister’s Conference this week—an event that was expected to draw hundreds of attendees to its Charis Bible College in Woodland Park.
As ChurchLeaders has reported, AWMI sought an emergency injunction to proceed with the conference as scheduled on October 5. With the help of Liberty Counsel, the ministry sued Colorado’s governor as well as state and local health departments, alleging religious discrimination. Meanwhile, public health officials sought a temporary restraining order against AWMI, attempting to halt this week’s in-person conference.
The Latest Developments
State and county officials say such an order “is necessary to protect the public from (AWMI’s) reckless and indifferent actions, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and to help prevent possible deaths.” They point to one student recently testing positive, “further increasing the risks of outbreak from the event.” The 652 students at Charis Bible College are required to attend the Charis Minister’s Conference, but AWMI’s website says attendees can stream the event online.
During a federal hearing on Thursday, attorneys for AWMI reportedly didn’t answer the judge’s questions about safety protocols at the conference. According to news reports, when the judge asked ministry leader Andrew Wommack to answer her questions via phone, AWMI abruptly withdrew its federal suit. In response, the state and county filed a new complaint, attempting to force the ministry to comply with public health orders.
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, says Colorado and Teller County were trying to “hijack” AWMI’s federal lawsuit “to get their own emergency injunction.” The only law under discussion in AWMI’s federal suit, he adds, is the First Amendment, “which AWMI could not violate anyway.”
Videos Offer Conflicting Evidence
On Facebook, AWMI shares a video about its safety protocols for in-person conference participants. “We wanted to give you an inside look at all of the precautions that we have taken to help protect both our guests and the community of Woodland Park,” the ministry writes. Video footage shows staff wearing masks, signs encouraging social distancing, one-way arrows on floors, and hand-sanitizing stations.
Local TV station KRDO, however, obtained videos and screenshots from social media showing attendees indoors without masks. Colorado’s lawsuit against AWMI references that footage.
The county says its reopening status is at stake—and that future outbreaks will mean tighter restrictions for a variety of industries and indoor gatherings. Teller County Administrator Sheryl Decker says they’re still conducting contact tracing from a coronavirus outbreak attributed to a July event at AWMI. The county “remains concerned that AWMI’s conference poses a threat to public health,” she adds.
AWMI, however, takes issue with health officials’ claims that their summer events led to an outbreak. It points to a state website that notes, in part: “We can rarely prove where any individual was exposed with a person-to-person pathogen.”
This summer, AWMI fought a cease-and-desist order from the state, saying its rights of free assembly were at stake and that it was taking safety precautions.