Movie theater operators AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., Cinemark Holdings Inc. and Regal Cinemas Inc. sued New Jersey for keeping cinemas closed due to the risk of coronavirus spread while allowing stores, shopping malls and churches to reopen.
The chains, led by the National Association of Theatre Owners, said in a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Trenton, New Jersey, that Governor Phil Murphy’s continued closure of cinemas is “neither fair nor reasonable.” They argue that going to the movies is less risky than attending organized religious services and ceremonies, which were allowed to resume in late June.
Most states have already allowed movie theaters to reopen or are planning to allow them to restart operations, the chains say. According to the suit, theaters will be running in 45 states, along with Washington DC and Puerto Rico, by the end of July. The companies say they will comply with safety guidelines like requiring patrons and employees to wear masks, limiting occupancy and staggering show times.
Both places of worship and theaters are regarded as high-risk environments for infection by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the owners highlighted differences in how people act at the movies compared to church.
No Hugging, No Singing
“Unlike attendees of at places of worship, movie theater guests generally do not engage with those outside their immediate groups to have conversations, hold or shake hands, hug, sing, provide verbal responses, do responsive readings, or engage in other forms of contact regularly engaged in at houses of worship,” the companies said in the suit.
“Indeed, speaking or singing during the performance is not allowed in movie theaters. Nor are there shared books or documents or frequent standing, sitting or kneeling in movie theaters.”
Movie theater chains have been hit hard by the pandemic. AMC reported a loss of more than $2 billion in the first quarter of 2020, even before all of its theaters were closed. In addition to lockdown orders, theater chains have been hurt by studios’ decision to release many major movies online through streaming services.
Murphy last week doubled New Jersey’s outdoor gathering limit, to 500, while indefinitely delaying the lifting of a ban on indoor dining, citing “knucklehead” non-distancing behavior at New Jersey outdoor establishments and the recent nationwide surge in cases.
Outdoor religious services and political activities, such as demonstrations, have no cap. Indoors, the crowd maximum remains 25% of a space’s capacity, with 100 people at most.
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