The Democratic governor of Kansas issued an executive order to limit church attendance to 10 people, but a federal judge just blocked it. The decision remains in effect until May 2 pending a hearing this week in a lawsuit filed by two churches against the governor.
The Daily Caller reported that as long as the pastor and congregants observe social distancing, the state can’t limit church attendance. An excerpt:
“Churches and religious activities appear to have been singled out among essential functions for stricter treatment,” the judge wrote in his order.
News of Broomes’ ruling comes after Attorney General William Barr released a statement on religious practices and social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic saying that “even in times of emergency,” federal law prohibits religious discrimination.
“Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity,” Barr said.
As freedom of religion is a fundamental constitutional right, courts review such laws and orders under strict scrutiny to determine whether there’s a compelling governmental interest to justify it, whether it’s narrowly tailored to achieve that end, and whether it’s the least restrictive means to do so.
Limiting church attendance to 10 people, even during a pandemic, fails this test. As long as other services are available (fast food drive-through windows and curb-side pickup, for example) with people practicing social distancing, there’s no reason to infringe on religious freedom in this way.
Other churches have filed lawsuits against governments that barred drive-in church services because of the COVID-19 outbreak.