In an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, governors across the country have taken action to shut down in-person church services while allowing secular businesses, like abortion clinics and liquor stores, to remain open. In spite of these unconstitutional government orders, one church in Kentucky has found success through the court system as a federal district court granted its request for in-person church services to be resumed.
Last week, Liberty Counsel won an injunction in Kentucky federal District Court on behalf of Maryville Baptist Church and its pastor Dr. Jack Roberts. This ruling came after a lower court granted an emergency injunction allowing for parking lot services the weekend prior.
Last Saturday afternoon, the federal [sic] Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in a 3-0 opinion granted an emergency injunction allowing parking lot services. The order was broad enough to cover in-person services, but due to the time constraints, the Court of Appeals ordered the lower court to immediately review and report back. After additional briefing this week, the District Court, applying the ruling of the Court of Appeals, granted the injunction for in-person services, thus blocking Gov. Andy Beshear from further enforcement.
The Court ruled that the church is likely to succeed on the merits of the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause and the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Liberty Counsel’s case is also still pending at the Court of Appeals. Yesterday afternoon, a few hours before the lower court granting the in-person injunction, the Court of Appeals requested that an updated status to determine when the lower court would rule, as the Court of Appeals ordered the matter be decided immediately.
Kentucky Gov. Beshear issued orders on March 19 and 25 prohibiting all religious services while providing exemptions for many secular institutions, most notably for abortion clinics. After Kentucky State Police swarmed Maryville Baptist Church’s parking lot on Easter Sunday and issued notices of criminal violations to all those in attendance of the “drive-in” service, Liberty Counsel sued the governor and the state police.
Not only were attendees of the drive-in service issued notices of criminal violations which ordered the congregants to mandatory, household-wide quarantine for attending the service, but Gov. Beshear then sent letters to the owners and occupants of each of the vehicles further demanding quarantine and threatening subsequent action should they fail to comply with government decrees.
LifeNews reports that Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed a compelling amicus brief two weeks ago in support of Liberty Counsel’s lawsuit against Beshear, stating: “The Court should enter an injunction pending appeal ‘to prevent irreparable harm.’”
After the court’s ruling, Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “I am pleased that Gov. Andy Beshear has been stopped from sending law enforcement to intimidate and harass churchgoers. The governor’s orders banning all religious gatherings have been stopped cold. The state has no authority to dictate the manner and form of worship for every church.”
The states most certainly do not have constitutional ground to stand on when it comes to restricting the rights of Americans to worship freely. The separation of church and state clause was created specifically for these kinds of threats to religious expression and freedom from the government.
This victory in Kentucky should encourage other churches to stand-up to the unconstitutional restrictions placed on them by power-hungry state leaders.
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