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Movie Theaters Sue New Jersey Claiming First Amendment Right to Reopen

Variety logo Variety 7/7/2020 Gene Maddaus
a store inside of a building © Rebecca Rubin

A group of movie theater companies — including AMC, Cinemark and Regal — have filed a lawsuit against the governor of New Jersey, claiming a First Amendment right to reopen during the pandemic.

The companies, led by the National Association of Theatre Owners, is challenging Gov. Phil Murphy’s order that allows malls, libraries, churches and museums to reopen, but keeps movie theaters and other entertainment venues closed.

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“Plaintiffs bring this action to ensure that movie theatre are treated equally with other similarly situated places of public assembly, and in order to exercise their First Amendment rights to exhibit films of significant artistic, cultural, political and popular merit,” the lawsuit states.

The suit takes particular issue with Murphy’s orders allowing churches to reopen, with indoor gatherings limited to 100 people or 25% capacity. The plaintiffs contend there is no reason that theaters should not be allowed to reopen under the same restrictions.

“There is no rational basis for Defendants’ distinction between, for example, places of worship and movie theatres for purposes of reopening, yet Defendants have allowed places of worship to reopen while movie theatres must remain closed, with no scheduled date for reopening,” the lawsuit states.

Theaters have been designated for reopening under Stage 3 of the state’s protocols. The state entered Stage 2 on June 15, and the state has subsequently allowed indoor malls to reopen. Gyms, fitness centers, indoor amusement parks, performing arts centers, and multiplexes remain closed.

The major cinema chains are hoping to be able to open by the end of July. New Jersey is one of a handful of states that have not already allowed theaters to reopen or set a timeline that would allow them to do so by the end of July.

The exhibitors have met with state officials to share their safety protocols, but allege that New Jersey officials have been unmoved.

A spokesman for the National Association of Theatre Owners and a spokesman for Gov. Murphy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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