Yuck. The argument for and against reopening movie theaters just went in a very nasty and litigious direction. New Jersey’s Governor Philip Murphy, and the state health department have refused to allow theaters to reopen in mid-August, despite a carefully laid-out plan on the parts of distributors AMC, Cinemark, Regal, and more, to safely open back up for business in the age of the coronavirus. The plan was put into place to accommodate the opening of Christoper Nolan’s ‘Tenet’, the first major studio pic to arrive since the mass outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The Warner Brothers film is scheduled to open in the US on Thursday, September 3.
On behalf of these mega-chains, the National Association of Theatre Owners sued Murphy (personally, it sound like!) for violating their First Amendment rights. The judge rejected the request for a temporary restraining order, stating that the theaters could have filed a legal action sooner and pointed out that other states are backpedaling on reopenings after surges in COVID-19 cases.
What the theaters are really crying foul over is that New Jersey has allowed churches to reopen, and they are arguing that the state has put a priority on religious freedom of speech over secular speech.
According to New Jersey’s attorney general:
“Even if this Court disagrees with the State’s well-supported determination that houses of worship and movie theatres are dissimilarly situated, it still cannot grant Plaintiffs the relief that they seek for another reason: the State is allowed to accord greater protection to religious activity.”
In its latest filing, the N.A.T.O. argued:
“To be clear: Plaintiffs never disputed that a State has authority to impose emergency public health measures (which is why Plaintiffs never considered filing suit when the initial, neutral business closure orders were issued in March). And Plaintiffs are not claiming that they should be treated more favorably than other indoor gatherings that the State has allowed to open. But the very cases on which Defendants rely most make it abundantly clear that Defendants’ emergency powers must be exercised in a constitutional manner. Equal protection under the law and the right to free speech do not vanish during a public health emergency. Now that Defendants have deemed it safe for similarly-situated gathering places to reopen with appropriate health safeguards in place, equal protection dictates that they must allow Plaintiffs to reopen under the same conditions. This case is not about special treatment, this case is about equal treatment.”
Even more bluntly, the theaters stated:
“Unlike attendees at places of worship, movie theatre guests generally do not engage in conversation with those outside their immediate group, hold or shake hands, hug, sing, provide verbal responses, engage in responsive readings, sit, stand and kneel frequently, share prayer books, or engage in other forms of contact common in places of worship. There are no hands-on healing ceremonies. Speaking and singing is not allowed in movie theatres.”
Ultimately, a judge will make the decision, but you have to admit… they kind of have a point.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter