The U.S. District Court issued a temporary restraining order Saturday night which prohibits enforcement of Governor Kelly’s Executive Orders against churches which sued. The orders restrict religious gatherings to 10 or fewer people.
The court’s temporary order noted that, given the gravity of the issues involved, the order only applies to the two plaintiffs to the lawsuit. All other religious gatherings must continue to adhere to the requirements of the Executive Order and limit gatherings to 10 or fewer attendees.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued the following statement:
“Today’s judicial ruling is a much-needed reminder that the Constitution is not under a stay-home order and the Bill of Rights cannot be quarantined. The Constitution protects our liberties especially during times of crisis, when history reveals governments too quick to sacrifice rights of the few to calm fears of the many. As I have consistently counseled, the governor of Kansas must not discriminate against religious gatherings by threatening worshipers with arrest or imprisonment while allowing similar secular gatherings to proceed. Let me be clear: My own view remains that churches, synagogues, temples and mosques should cancel all in-person services and instead worship remotely at this time. I strongly urge all Kansas religious leaders to do so. But as a government official, I may not impose that preference selectively on Kansans of faith but not others. Neither may Governor Kelly.”
Dr. Lee Norman, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said nothing has changed related to the need to practice social distancing and avoid mass gatherings.
“As Kansans, we have a responsibility to keep our neighbors, friends and family safe. Please do not gather in groups larger than 10 people,” Norman said. “As we see ramped-up testing across the state, we still must exercise extreme caution in our daily activities. It bears repeating: stay safe, stay home, save lives.”
Governor Laura Kelly issued this response:
“We are in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic,” Governor Laura Kelly said. “We all want to resume our normal lives as soon as possible, but for now the data and science tell us there’s still a serious threat from COVID-19 – and when we gather in large groups, the virus spreads. My executive order is about saving Kansans’ lives and slowing the spread of the virus to keep our neighbors, our families and our loved ones safe. During public health emergencies, we must take proactive measures to save lives.There have been at least eight other legal challenges like this one, and so far none of them have ruled against a mass gathering restriction like ours. Courts across the country have recognized that during this pandemic emergency the law allows governments to prioritize proper public health and safety. This is not about religion. This is about a public health crisis.This ruling was just a preliminary step. There is still a long way to go in this case, and we will continue to be proactive and err on the side of caution where Kansans’ health and safety is at stake.”
The Governor noted that Kansas has had six deaths and more than 80 cases of COVID-19 that have originated from religious gatherings. Kansas is not alone in restricting gatherings, including religious gatherings. A majority of states and hundreds of local governments across the country have imposed similar temporary restrictions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.