A sharp uptick in coronavirus cases have imperiled the plan to reopen movie theaters around the country later this month. Even in the few areas where the pandemic is not worsening, like the Northeast, movie theaters have been removed from the list of spaces that can begin welcoming back customers. New York City, for example, began Phase Three of its reopening yesterday; indoor movie theaters, like indoor dining, remain on the banned list.

Apparently, three of the biggest theater chains in the country — AMC, Cinemark, and Regal — find this state of affairs unacceptable. The National Association of Theatre Owners of New Jersey have now filed a suit against the state of New Jersey, claiming that keeping them closed while opening others businesses is “a violation of [their] First Amendment rights of freedom of speech.” Or, as The Hollywood Reporter, puts it, “if churches are reopening, so must movie houses.”

More from the Complaint, via THR:

Plaintiffs challenge Defendants’ unconstitutional and unlawful distinctions in allowing certain places of public assembly to reopen, while requiring movie theatres to remain closed ... 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 theatres is neither fair nor reasonable, and is instead a violation of Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, Equal Protection of the laws, Due Process under the law, and is a Taking of property without just compensation.

I continue to hope for the absolute best for movie theaters and their employees, who have been hit as hard as anyone by this pandemic. This is truly a terrible time for theaters, and I look forward to the day when it’s safe to return to the movies.

But the key word is safe, and increasing evidence suggests large, indoor gatherings are among the most dangerous places for virus transmission. Freedom of speech is enormously important, but I’m not sure that’s really what’s under threat when you keep people from buying a ticket to see Mulan at AMC. You can read the theaters’ full lawsuit here.

Gallery — What We Miss Most About Movie Theaters:

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