MADISON – The owner of an Appleton hair salon is suing over Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order, saying it violates her free speech and religious rights.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Green Bay, is the third legal challenge to the Democratic governor’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The other two cases are before the state Supreme Court.
Jessica Netzel, the owner of Kingdom Kuts, argues in her lawsuit that Evers’ orders limiting gatherings and closing businesses like hers interfere with her constitutional rights. She is asking U.S. District Judge William Griesbach to lift those orders and allow her hair salon to be treated like businesses that Evers has deemed essential.
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The orders violate her ability to practice her religion because she cannot attend in-person services or operate Kingdom Kuts, her Christian-based children’s hair salon.
“Ms. Netzel sincerely believes that she is to share her faith with others through her work at Kingdom Kuts,” her attorney, Joseph Voiland, wrote in the lawsuit.
Netzel also argues the orders disrupt the ability of people to gather signatures to get candidates on the ballot this fall or to try to recall someone from office. The suit does not say who might be targeted for recall, but some protesters have called for removing Evers from office during protests at the state Capitol.
Named in the suit are Evers, state Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm and Appleton Police Chief Todd Thomas. Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff had no immediate comment on the latest lawsuit.
An April 15 post on Kingdom Kuts’ Facebook page said the salon would provide services to one customer at a time because it needed to reopen.
“We are suffering terribly and the aid for small businesses isn’t what it should be,” the post said.
Appleton police officers on May 6 told Netzel she appeared to be violating Evers’ orders. They issued her a cease-and-desist letter the next day, but she did not receive it until Monday, according to the lawsuit.
On Saturday, officers entered her business and told her they were referring her to the district attorney’s office for prosecution, according to the lawsuit. An officer returned on Monday and said more charges would be referred to the district attorney, according to the lawsuit.
Netzel posted videos of the police visits on Facebook.
“As we keep getting these (complaints), we’re going to have to keep coming back,” one officer told her in a video posted Saturday.
“It’s my constitutional right to provide for my family,” Netzel told the officer. “This is simply putting food on the table for my family and that should be my right.”
Netzel is seeking to have all businesses treated alike and is seeking an injunction to prevent the police and others from enforcing Evers’ orders against her and her business.
The state Supreme Court may weigh in on the issue before Griesbach considers the Appleton case.
The state high court is expected to rule any day on a challenge to Evers’ stay-at-home order brought by Republican lawmakers. The justices have not yet decided whether to accept another case, brought by two men who argue Evers’ policies interfere with their free speech and religious rights.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.
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