DOJ to address jurisdictions violating religious liberty during coronavirus shutdowns

Across the country, government officials were busy outlawing religious services during the run-up to Easter Sunday. In response, a Department of Justice (DOJ) representative says that those who single out the faithful for restrictions could face legal consequences.

“During this sacred week for many Americans, [Attorney General Bill] Barr is monitoring [government] regulation of religious services,” Barr’s spokesperson, Kerri Kupec, said in a tweet on Saturday evening, according to the Daily Caller.

“While social distancing policies are appropriate during this emergency, they must be applied evenhandedly [and] not single out religious [organizations],” she continued. “Expect action from DOJ next week!”

Federal court sides with church against Louisville mayor

Some state and local restrictions on religious gatherings have already been challenged in the courts. In Kentucky, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer issued an order prohibiting drive-in Easter church services at the On Fire Church.

Prior to his order, the church had been holding regular worship services in which parishioners remained in their cars and complied with the CDC’s social distancing guidelines.

U.S. District Court Judge Justin Walker reacted by granting a temporary restraining order on Saturday to block enforcement of Fischer’s order, the Daily Caller reported.

“On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter,” Walker’s opinion began. “That sentence is one that this Court never expected to see outside the pages of a dystopian novel, or perhaps the pages of The Onion.

“But two days ago, citing the need for social distancing during the current pandemic, Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fischer ordered Christians not to attend Sunday services, even if they remained in their cars to worship  — and even though it’s Easter,” the federal judge continued.

Walker concluded by characterizing Fischer’s decision as “stunning,” going on to call the order “beyond all reason” and “unconstitutional.” 

“The Court enjoins Louisville from enforcing; attempting to enforce; threatening to enforce; or otherwise requiring compliance with any prohibition on drive-in church services at On Fire,” he wrote.

Assault on religious liberty

Meanwhile, Kansas’ state Supreme Court sided with Gov. Laura Kelly (D) in her decision to restrict the size of religious gatherings to 10 people, according to NPR.

Republicans in the state legislature voted to revoke the order, condemning it as an unconstitutional threat to religious liberty. However, the state’s highest court ruled that they lacked the authority to do so and did not address the underlying constitutional issues.

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