We know you have questions about the government's response to COVID-19. We have the expertise to answer those questions, and we're finding new ways to get you the information you need.

We've been collecting questions from supporters like you via email and social media, and we've been answering those questions in a series of virtual events, like our weekly Office Hours chats. This FAQ page gathers the most frequently asked questions and provides answers from our experts right here.

Have a question but don't see the answer? Send your question to us at communications@aclu-mn.org, or via Twitter or Facebook.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

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Constitutionality of the Stay at Home Order

Q.Constitutionality of the Stay at Home Order
A.

Why is the Governor allowed to continue extending the Stay at Home order? Can he extend it indefinitely?

Unlimited, indefinite authority is troubling to the ACLU-MN and should be troubling to every member of the community. But the governor’s authority — even though it's broad — is neither unlimited nor indefinite. The law allows the governor to declare a peacetime emergency, and it gives him general direction and control of emergency management. But the governor’s actions must comply with the U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions, and a court could overturn his actions if they do not pass the high levels of scrutiny courts apply when our liberties are being restricted. 

The governor also cannot unilaterally extend his emergency powers. When the governor declares a peacetime emergency, the statute says that the emergency can last only 5 days, unless the Executive Council (including the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, State Auditor and Attorney General) agrees unanimously to extend it for up to 30 more days. After that period is up, the Legislature can terminate the emergency by a majority vote of each house.

 

The Stay at Home order is currently being justified by data modeling. How can people trust that the modeling provides a reliable justification for the order?

The government's restrictions on our constitutional liberties must be directly related to a scientific, public health justification. If the government is relying on a data model to restrict our movement, then its justifications for doing so ought to be transparent. Fortunately, the state of Minnesota has created a page that provides details about this modeling. We encourage the state to continue to provide as much transparency as possible, allowing others to evaluate the model and offer critiques. We all need to be able to trust the decisions our government is making, and that’s why transparency is critical.

Enforcement of the Stay at Home Order

Q.Enforcement of the Stay at Home Order
A.

What are The ACLU-MN’s concerns about people being charged with violating the Stay at Home order? 

The ACLU-MN is especially concerned that enforcement of the order is going to fall disproportionately on marginalized people — on poor people, on Black, indigenous, and other people of color, and on people with disabilities — because of racial profiling, unlawful stops, and other disparate treatment stemming from systemic police racism. 

We're also concerned about a trend that we are already observing, where police are charging and arresting people for other crimes and then tacking on this additional misdemeanor charge. 

When someone is brought to jail because they're alleged to have committed another crime, tacking on another misdemeanor charge is excessive and unnecessary. That is not enforcement that is aimed at making individuals and communities safer. 

 

How can the state enforce the Stay at Home order and make sure enforcement is fair?  

The ACLU-MN believes that compliance with the order should be as voluntary as possible. Instead of arresting people or immediately issuing citations, police should provide education when they see individuals who are likely violating the order. In other contexts, police issue warnings all the time — for speeding, for transit fare evasion —  and they can do so here as well. 

Ensuring that enforcement is done fairly means that we must collect and analyze race data on COVID-19 testing, infections, deaths, and encounters with law enforcement. We have found it very difficult to locate race data about the people who have been cited for violating the Stay at Home order. Unless we have reliable data about who is being charged, it is extremely difficult to make sure that police are enforcing the order fairly.

  

What is the ACLU of Minnesota's position on fines and fees during the pandemic? 

Even before this emergency, the ACLU of Minnesota was urging legislators to reform fines and fees. We believe that work is all the more critical now.  

Under current Minnesota law, a person can have their driver's license suspended if they get a ticket and cannot afford to pay their fine. For many people who must continue to drive to work or to care for family, the initial fine and suspension often spirals into more charges and more fines. The pandemic amplifies these effects. 

As we continue to press for reforms on this issue, we have asked the Court to make any fines and fees for violations of the Stay at Home order contingent on a person’s ability to pay.

 

How can we compel people to follow laws if there are no real consequences (like jail time or a fine) for not following them? 

The ACLU of Minnesota has never advocated that there be no consequences for not following the law. We do believe that criminal penalties, which often lead to problems with getting housing and employment and will stay with a person for the rest of their life, should only be used if they are absolutely necessary to gain compliance with the law. 

In other contexts, police enforce the law by citing people and releasing them, allowing the person to respond to that citation later, usually by paying a fine or fee. We believe that all fines and fees should be based on a person’s ability to pay. So someone who can’t afford a $50 fine would pay something lower that is nevertheless meaningful to them. People who lack means should not face a disproportionate consequence for the same conduct. 

We also believe that no one should be put in jail for violating the Stay at Home order. It makes little sense to put someone in a facility where it’s impossible to practice physical distancing in order to enforce an order that requires physical distancing. 

 

Almost two dozen people across the state have been charged with violating the Stay at Home order. Why were the Liberate Minnesota protesters not charged with the same violation? 

We cannot speak to the motivations of the Saint Paul Police Department and their handling of the Liberate Minnesota protest. It does, however, reflect a trend of nmany police departments across the state approaching violations of the Stay at Home order with voluntary compliance. 

We hope that other protesters for other causes are treated similarly. For example, people who are protesting to gain the release of people who are incarcerated should not be treated differently than Liberate Minnesota protesters have so far.

Religious Freedom

Q.Religious Freedom
A.

Does it violate the First Amendment or the Minnesota Constitution for the Governor to effectively ban in-person religious services in the interest of public health?

The First Amendment and our Minnesota Constitution both protect the right to free exercise of religion. The Stay at Home order limits the ability of people to assemble and worship together, and that does infringe on our ability to freely exercise our religion. However, in a 1990 decision called Employment Division v. Smith, the U.S. Supreme Court said that neutral, generally applicable laws that have an incidental burden on religion don't violate the First Amendment and the right to free exercise of religion.  

The Stay at Home order is neutral in that it doesn't single out one religion, and it applies to almost everyone, so we think it's likely that a court would not find that the Stay at Home order violates the First Amendment.  

Minnesota's Constitution has greater protections than those offered by the First Amendment. It states that a government action that has a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion must be the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.  

In this case, the government has an interest in flattening the curve and preventing unnecessary deaths, and they have proposed to do that by prohibiting large gatherings. We think that the government’s interest is compelling, and based on the advice of public health experts, it appears that banning large gatherings is, at this point, the least restrictive means of serving that interest.

 

This year during Ramadan, the call to prayers will be amplified from Dar Al-Hijrah mosque throughout the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis. Is that legal?

The ACLU-MN opposes government actions that promote religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. We take this issue seriously and looked into the broadcasts in question. 

Like many cities, Minneapolis has a noise ordinance that requires a permit any time a person or group wants to use amplified sound that exceeds the sound limits of the ordinance. The City of Minneapolis granted an amplified sound permit that will allow the mosque to broadcast the call to prayer five times a day during the month of Ramadan. This is not unlike other amplified sound permits the city grants on a regular basis for things like the ringing of church bells, and outdoor concerts like the Basilica Block Party. The City also allows construction noise, often without requiring a permit.  

Some people argue that there is a distinction between Adhan (the call to prayer) and other amplified sound because Adhan involves prayer as opposed to ringing church bells or non-religious content. But the city does not – and cannot – consider content when deciding whether to grant or deny an amplified sound permit. They cannot distinguish between a church ringing their bells randomly and a church ringing their bells to the tune of Amazing Grace. And they cannot deny an amplified sound permit to a mosque based on the conclusion that proposed sound is “too” religious or has religious content that some people find offensive. 

Reducing Prison and Jail Populations

Q.Reducing Prison and Jail Populations
A.

I saw that The ACLU-MN is suing for the release of people incarcerated in Moose Lake prison. Is the ACLU of Minnesota advocating for the release of all prisoners? 

COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire in the Moose Lake prison, and we know from multiple prisoners that the state isn’t doing enough to keep people in prison, staff or the surrounding communities safe. We filed a class action lawsuit asking the state to release people in prison who are either at high risk from COVID-19 or who are near the end of their sentences. We have also asked the Court to appoint a special master to reduce the population so that physical distancing is possible, the risk of exposure is minimized and to ensure that facilities make changes to keep people safe. 

The ACLU-MN is not advocating for the release of every person in the facility. We’re advocating for Moose Lake prison to do what it must to protect people in its custody. Detention should not be a death sentence. 

 

People who are in prisons and jails are there for a reason. Why should we release them into our communities — especially if they are likely infected with the coronavirus?  

Whatever the reason someone is in jail or prison, no one deserves a life-threatening illness or even death from COVID-19. Everyone there is at risk.  

They are breathing the same air, and using the same bathrooms, the same showers, and the same phones. It’s important to remember that many people in jail are awaiting trial and are stuck there because they can’t afford bail. Having a lack of resources shouldn’t lead to someone being endangered by COVID either. 

The less that jails and prisons do to contain COVID-19, the more that staff and surrounding communities are at risk. Staff come and go from these facilities every day, and they can carry the virus home to their families and into their community without even knowing it. The more people who get sick in jails and prisons, the more likely it is that local hospitals will get overwhelmed trying to treat people. If that happens, the whole community will suffer.

 

What should the state be doing to protect people who are uniquely vulnerable to the virus, including immigrants and people who are incarcerated? 

Many local jails throughout the state have already done a good job at reducing their populations. They've moved people to home confinement, they've reduced bail and used other strategies to reduce their populations to allow social distancing.  

But we need to do more. There are still workhouses in the state that have high populations where people are double-bunked. Sheriffs should follow the lead of Ramsey County, which reduced the population in its workhouse by moving people to home confinement and allowing them to complete their sentences after the crisis passes. Federal correctional and immigrant detention facilities should take similar measures. 

We need to have testing for every person, in every facility, and we need transparency about the process and the results.

Immigrants' Rights

Q.Immigrants' Rights
A.

Does the President have the right to deny stimulus payments to families with mixed immigration status? 

The ACLU has argued that the federal government should not deny payments to people with mixed immigration status. We think their decision to do so is problematic because we know how important immigrants are to our community. People who are undocumented, along with their families, are suffering as much — if not more — than everyone else, and we should be making sure that nobody is left behind in the government’s response to the pandemic. 

 

What is going to happen to undocumented immigrants who are detained in Sherburne County Jail and other county jails across the state? 

We are very concerned about immigrant populations, especially people who are in detention.  

So far, the federal courts in Minnesota have declined to release even medically vulnerable people who are in federal custody. Those decisions were based on the assumption that, because COVID-19 has not yet (as of this writing) been identified in state detention facilities, there was not a compelling reason to require that people be released. 

The fact is, we don’t know how many people have been tested at detention facilities around the state, including county jails like the one in Sherburne County. We don’t know if anyone has been tested at all. 

What we do know from public health experts is that once the virus reaches a facility, at that point it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to contain its spread. That’s why we have filed a petition on behalf of a medically vulnerable person being detained in Kandiyohi County. We are hopeful that the court will grant her release, and that our action will be a model for actions brought by other medically vulnerable people.

Rights of Essential Workers

Q.Rights of Essential Workers
A.

What are my rights as an essential worker? What if my employer is putting my health at risk or not following proper procedures? 

Employment law is not an area of expertise for the ACLU. We sue the government for violating people's constitutional rights. We encourage people who believe their employment rights have been violated to check out the state Department of Labor and Industry and the Minnesota Attorney General's Office , or seek out a private employment lawyer to address their concerns. 

 

What if an essential worker gets stopped by law enforcement on the way to work? What should they do? 

We know this is a real concern, especially for immigrants who are essential workers and who carpool to work. We have heard from people who fear that law enforcement will target them for enforcement of the Stay at Home order.  

We have a downloadable card on our website that includes information about what to do if you're stopped by the police either in your vehicle or on the street. While we don’t have space to get into all the information here, two points are especially relevant to the current situation: 

First, remember that anything that you say to police can be used against you. If you are stopped during the Stay at Home order, you might want to consider whether to provide police with details about why you're traveling. Given that violating the Stay at Home order is a misdemeanor crime, you do still have the right to remain silent and avoid acting as a witness against yourself.

Second, we advise people to never lie to the police, which can be a crime in and of itself and can compound any charges stemming from the encounter. 

Check out the Know Your Rights page for more information about what to do if you are stopped by police, and remember that all your rights still apply during the pandemic.

Census and Voting

Q.Census and Voting
A.

How could the COVID-19 pandemic impact the census and voting?  

The U.S. Census will determine our representation during the next 10 years, and it will determine the amount of federal money that is allocated to Minnesota communities. It is absolutely critical that every single person in Minnesota is counted. But getting a full and accurate count is more challenging than ever right now, when people may be worried about going to the post office or afraid to answer their door. Please fill out your census form, and make sure your family and friends do too. 

Protecting our elections and voters from the pandemic will be challenging too. Voting in person right now is dangerous, and we could see another wave of coronavirus this fall when  it’s time to vote in upcoming primaries and elections. 

Fortunately, Minnesota already has no-excuse voting by mail. Now we need to make sure that people who are already registered receive absentee ballots automatically, without needing to request one.  

 

How could COVID-19 impact Minnesota’s same-day voter registration? 

Minnesota has some great laws that allow people to register to vote on the day of the election. Those laws are partially responsible for Minnesota ranking first in voter turnout. But in 2020, it’s going to be more difficult to get people registered and to ensure that everyone who wants to cast a vote can do so. You can help! Make sure that you’re registered to vote by checking your registration. Then reach out to your family, friends and neighbors (especially if they’re new in town!) and encourage them to register to vote online. It only takes about five minutes.

Discrimination During the Pandemic

Q.Discrimination During the Pandemic
A.

What can we do about discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

COVID-19 does not discriminate based on race, where you come from, your immigration status, or anything else. One of the distressing aspects of the pandemic is the continued rise of xenophobia and racism toward Asian American community members. Please consult at least one of the following resources if you experience discrimination during the pandemic: 

If you are the victim of discrimination by the government, contact the ACLU at and fill out our online intake form.

If you are the victim of another type of discrimination during the pandemic, you can contact the hotline launched by Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. Any Minnesotan can call the Discrimination Helpline at 1-833-454-0148 or complete and submit this online form. The helpline is staffed by investigators from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Translation/interpretation services are available.

If you are the victim of a crime, including a hate crime, or fear for your safety, call 911 immediately.