NEW JERSEY─Several movie theater chains including AMC, Cinemark, and Regal Cinemas have filed a lawsuit against New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Monday, July 6 as he required theaters to remain closed while allowing other public places to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the stay-at-home order has eased, Murphy issued a roadmap to articulate the principles for the reopening plan and established multiple stages to categorize activities into different risk levels. Movie theaters were placed in Stage 3.

Places of worship were allowed to reopen on June 13, and public assembly places such as libraries, museums, aquariums, and public or private social clubs also got permission to resume business. Theater chains argued that Murphy did not give any timeline and kept movie theaters, performing art centers, gyms, and indoor amusement closed.

“By this Complaint, Plaintiffs challenge Defendants’ unconstitutional and unlawful distinctions in allowing certain places of public assembly to reopen, while requiring movie theatres to remain closed,” states National Association of Theater Owners of New Jersey in the suit.

“COVID-19 represents a serious public health risk, and Plaintiffs support fair and reasonable actions by the government to address that risk. However, the government-mandated total closure of movie theaters is neither fair nor reasonable and is instead a violation of Plaintiffs’ First Amendment right of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, Equal Protection of the laws, Due Process under the law, and is Taking of property without just compensation,” the suit claims.

The National Association of Theater Owners stressed that movie theaters have been well-prepared to implement safety protocols and addressed detailed safety plans for the operation to Governor Murphy, while Murphy did not provide any explanation for the “disparate treatment with similar risk levels regarding COVID-19.”

As of Wednesday, July 8, New Jersey has a total of 174,039 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with a total of 13,476 deaths.