Federal appeals court rules that Beshear must allow Louisville church’s drive-in services

The U.S. Court of Appeals on Saturday issued an order that prohibits Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear from banning a Louisville church’s drive-in worship services.

Maryville Baptist Church in Louisville and its pastor, Jack Roberts, filed a lawsuit accusing the governor of violating their constitutional rights after Kentucky State Police came to the church on Easter Sunday and placed notices on the cars in the parking lot alerting worshipers that the health department would require them to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The notices were placed on the cars of people who attended services inside the church in violation of Beshear’s order and those who remained in their cars to listen to the service on loudspeakers that had been placed in the parking lot, the lawsuit states.
The order filed Saturday in the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will allow the church to hold drive-in services as long as those in attendance “adhere to the public health requirements mandated for ‘life-sustaining’ entities,” the order states.

Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which is representing the church and pastor, issued a news release Saturday calling the court’s finding a “stellar victory for religious freedom.”

The governor’s office also issued a statement, saying that “the Sixth Circuit decision supports what the Governor has said all along.

“While Maryville Baptist claimed that the Governor banned drive-in services, he clearly did not. The Governor has allowed and even encouraged hundreds of drive-in services across Kentucky. He explicitly encouraged them for Easter at his daily news conferences and on calls with local leaders and clergy. What the Sixth Circuit decided is that drive-in services are okay, but the Governor’s order prohibiting in-person services remains in effect. That has been the Governor’s exact policy since the beginning.”

Beshear prohibited mass gatherings in Kentucky beginning in March in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. He has previously said that drive-in church services are acceptable, so long as rules for social distancing are followed.

However, the judges said in the order issued Saturday that “that is not what the Governor’s orders say. By their terms, they apply to ‘[a]ll mass gatherings,’ ‘including, but not limited to, … faith-based … events.’”

The judges also said the orders seem to single out faith-based organizations.

“We don’t doubt the Governor’s sincerity in trying to do his level best to lessen the spread of the virus or his authority to protect the Commonwealth’s citizens,” the order states. “…But restrictions inexplicably applied to one group and exempted from another do little to further these goals and do much to burden religious freedom. Assuming all of the same precautions are taken, why is it safe to wait in a car for a liquor store to open but dangerous to wait in a car to hear morning prayers? Why can someone safely walk down a grocery store aisle but not a pew? And why can someone safely interact with a brave deliverywoman but not with a stoic minister? The Commonwealth has no good answers. While the law may take periodic naps during a pandemic, we will not let it sleep through one.”

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