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Madison-area coffee shop sues over local mask order

Helbachs Coffee Roasters and Kitchen in Middleton on Aug. 5, Casey Helbach, the owner of the business, is suing local officials over an ordinance requiring the wearing of face coverings inside businesses in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Helbachs Coffee Roasters and Kitchen in Middleton on Aug. 5, Casey Helbach, the owner of the business, is suing local officials over an ordinance requiring the wearing of face coverings inside businesses in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A coffee shop in a Madison suburb that declared itself a “mask-free zone” is suing local officials over an ordinance requiring the wearing of face coverings inside businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Helbachs Coffee Roasters and Kitchen, located in downtown Middleton, filed the lawsuit Monday in Dane County Circuit Court against the city, county and local officials who had attempted to enforce the mask ban.

Dane County’s mask ordinance took effect on July 13. A statewide mask ordinance took effect on Aug. 1. Helbachs is only challenging the local ordinance. The lawsuit is the first in Dane County to take on the legality of the mask ordinance. It comes after a federal judge last month struck another lawsuit down on a technicality that challenged a variety of other local ordinances related to the coronavirus.

Helbachs caught the attention of Dane County officials after a sign posted July 13 on its front door declaring it to be a “mask-free zone” was posted on social media. The coffee shop soon became the center of a debate over the efficacy of wearing masks, with mask opponents praising Helbachs for its stand while others accused the business of being irresponsible.

Helbachs was issued three citations for violating a public-health order. Helbachs is now faced with revocation of its food and drink license because of its refusal to abide by the order. A hearing on Public Health Madison Dane County’s motion to revoke the license is set for Aug. 25.

Helbachs has established a GoFundMe account to pay for the legal battle. As of Tuesday, it had raised about $10,700 out of its $50,000 goal. In that posting, cafe owner Casey Helbach attempted to explain what the “mask-free zone” sign meant. The sign has since been removed.

“This sign was a misrepresentation of our policy because we have no facial covering (mask) policy,” Helbach wrote. “We believe in freedom of expression and welcome patrons with or without a facial covering (mask).”

Helbach said in the post that the city-county order requiring the wearing of masks is unlawful.

“We are not against the public’s safety but rather against Madison & Dane County Public Health infringing on our constitutional rights,” he wrote.

Helbachs’ attorney Joseph Voiland, as well as attorneys for the city of Madison and Dane County, did not immediately return messages Tuesday.

Public-health officials have urged the wearing of masks as one of the most effective ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus. However, protests against requiring the wearing of masks have popped up across Wisconsin and the country.

Wisconsin joined a majority of states earlier this month with the order requiring masks. That statewide order has yet to be challenged in court, although Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott

Fitzgerald has said he wants the Legislature to strike it down. The Assembly would also have to vote to kill the order and so far Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has not said whether he wants to do that.

There were nearly 61,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin and 998 deaths as of Monday.

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