A federal judge has blocked an order by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) restricting in-person religious assemblies to no more than 10 people in an effort to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
In the Saturday ruling, U.S. District Judge John Broomes of Wichita wrote that “churches and religious activities appear to have been singled out among essential functions for stricter treatment,” The Associated Press reported.
Dodge City’s First Baptist Church and Junction City’s Calvary Baptist Church sued over the order, along with Pastors Stephen Ormond and Aaron Harris, according to the AP.
“Public safety is important, but so is following the Constitution,” Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel for the conservative Christian Alliance for Defending Freedom, which was involved in the case, told the news service. “We can prioritize the health of safety of ourselves and our neighbors without harming churches and people of faith.”
Broomes’s ruling does not lift restrictions on religious services entirely, instead ordering churches and houses of worship to abide by social distancing rules such as standing six feet apart and eschewing the use of collection plates.
Kelly’s office has said at least six deaths and 80 cases in the state were connected to religious gatherings, Eighty-six people have died from the virus in the state and 1,790 cases have been confirmed as of Saturday.
The governor has received substantial pushback over the order from Kansas Republicans in particular, including the GOP-controlled state legislature, which voted to strike down the order in early April, and Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who wrote that the law was likely unconstitutional and discouraged law enforcement from enacting it.
Kelly responded to the judge's ruling by calling it “preliminary.”
“There is still a long way to go in this case,” Kelly said, according to the AP. “And we will continue to be proactive and err on the side of caution where Kansans’ health and safety is at stake,” Kelly said.