A protester wears a mask outside the State Capitol. (Kate McMahon/Salem Reporter)

State mandates requiring people to wear face coverings in public are illegal and violate Oregon’s free speech protections, a conservative advocacy group has alleged in a new court action.

The Freedom Foundation filed a petition on Wednesday with the state Court of Appeals seeking to block requirements from the Oregon Health Authority that direct people to wear masks while out shopping, on the bus or in other settings to stop the spread of Covid.

The petition takes aim at edicts issued by the Oregon Health Authority in June and July that compel the use of masks. The same day the petition was filed, Gov. Kate Brown expanded the mask requirement and rolled back some of the state's reopening out of concerns over the virus’ spread.

In March, Brown declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic that was followed by orders that have reshaped much of daily life. The governor’s actions have brought multiple lawsuits seeking to undo restraints placed on businesses and churches.

The most recent action taken by the Freedom Foundation argues that state officials sidestepped the rule-making process in issuing the orders. The rulemaking process requires officials to give advance notice and the public a chance to raise objections.

“Neither the executive nor OHA possesses the authority to amend, delete, ignore, or in any way violate the legislative requirement that OHA follow the law when making rules,” the petition said.

Neither the governor’s office nor the Oregon Health Authority immediately responded to a request for comment.

The petition further argues that the mask requirement violates Oregonians’ free speech rights. Included with the petition are statements from Oregonians who have difficulties wearing masks because of medical or psychological conditions. The petition argues  they should not have to explain to strangers why they are not wearing a mask while at the store or elsewhere.

“Now all of sudden to get groceries to feed your family you have to disclose your private medical condition to a Walmart door-greeter,” said Jason Dudash, the Freedom Foundation’s Oregon director.

He said that these issues could have potentially been addressed had the rulemaking process been followed.

Kevin Rubio, a resident of Lane County, said in a statement included in the petition that he opposes the governor’s pandemic orders. He argued that being required to wear a mask amounts to a political gesture in support of the governor, violating his free speech rights.

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Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.