TRENTON — A federal judge has denied a request by several national theater chains to issue an order allowing them to reopen in New Jersey.

AMC, Cinemark and others sued Gov. Phil Murphy seeking a temporary restraining order to invalidate the Democrat's executive order keeping theaters closed due to concerns over COVID-19.

In the suit filed last week, they had argued that they were being treated unfairly because Murphy has allowed other large gatherings, such as religious ceremonies, to resume. The failure to allow theaters to reopen while houses of worship and other public entities are allowed to constitutes a violation of the theaters’ rights to free speech, equal protection and due process, the suit alleged.

The suit was the first of its kind brought against a state challenging COVID-19 restrictions.

The plaintiffs didn't satisfy “the stringent standards for granting this extraordinary relief,” U.S. District Judge Brian Martinotti wrote. He added that “it is noteworthy that, as Plaintiffs file this application, states that initially ordered the re-opening of indoor movie theaters have once again ordered their closure in response to rising COVID-19 infection numbers.”

Martinotti ordered the two sides to file briefs by the end of the month and scheduled a hearing for next month.

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