TRENTON — Movie theaters in New Jersey will remain closed, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

The decision upholds Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order that kept theaters closed even as other public places were allowed to reopen. Several national movie theater chains challenged the order in court in July.

“In closing indoor movie theater operations, (the state is) promoting the significant governmental interest of protecting public health by keeping closed areas that present heightened risks for COVID-19 transmission,” U.S. District Judge Brian Martinotti wrote in his opinion, NJ.com reported.

The theaters argued in their lawsuit that in allowing houses of worship and other public entities to reopen but not cinemas, the state violated the theaters’ rights to free speech, equal protection and due process.

The judge disagreed, saying the risk of transmitting the coronavirus increases with prolonged exposure. He added that movie theaters, "necessitate a large number of individuals congregating together concurrently in one indoor location for an unusually long period of time,” the newspaper reported.

The movie theaters said they had submitted a plan to the governor's office before suing, which included installing Plexiglass in vending areas, limiting ticket sales and requiring employees to pledge daily that they did not have symptoms associated with the coronavirus.

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