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Wisconsin hair salon owner sues over stay-at-home order over free speech, religious rights



MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The owner of a Christian-based children’s hair salon has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Gov. Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order that closed nonessential businesses is a violation of free speech and religious rights.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday is the third legal challenge to the order issued by the Democratic governor that runs until May 26. Two other lawsuits are pending in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. One was brought by Republican lawmakers alleging that Evers’ health secretary exceeded her authority in issuing the order. The other was brought by two men who argue Evers’ policies interfere with their free speech and religious rights.

The third lawsuit was filed by Jessica Netzel, the owner of Kingdom Kuts in Appleton, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Netzel asked U.S. District Judge William Griesbach to lift the order and allow her hair salon to be treated like businesses that Evers has deemed essential.

Netzel argued that the order violates her ability to practice her religion because she cannot attend in-person services or operate her Christian-based 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.

Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the lawsuit.

On April 15, Kingdom Kuts posted on Facebook that the salon would provide services to customers one at a time. 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 May 11, the lawsuit said.

On May 9, 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 May 11 and said more charges would be referred to the district attorney, according to the lawsuit.

Appleton Police Chief Todd Thomas, in a statement provided Wednesday to WLUK-TV, did not comment on the specific claims made in the lawsuit.

“We are aware of the difficult position people and businesses are in,” Thomas said. “We will continue to use compassionate discretion on enforcement of the orders and allow the courts to decide the disposition of any alleged offense.”

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.