Judge prevents Louisville mayor from blocking drive-up Easter church services

Municipal authorities in Kentucky tried to take away holiday church services this year, but they were swatted down forcefully by the courts.

According to the Washington Examiner, a federal judge on Saturday granted a temporary restraining order meant to prevent the local government in Louisville from criminalizing drive-up worship on Easter.

Mayor threatens crackdown

One of the most difficult aspects of the coronavirus outbreak, at least for people of faith, is that churches across the country have canceled services during one of the holiest times of the year in hopes of preventing the coronavirus from spreading through their congregations and beyond.

However, in some parts of the United States, including Louisville, Kentucky, a potential workaround has been developed — namely, drive-up worship services. Parishioners partaking in such an opportunity would simply drive to a single location, remain in their cars, and participate in a church service broadcast over speakers or via radio frequency. Such a scenario would seemingly be in keeping with the social distancing guidelines Americans have been following for weeks.

But Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D) earlier this week explained his opposition to the concept, saying, “Our job is to deny the virus. If we don’t do that, more lives will be lost. I know it’s tough… I just can’t allow [drive-up church services] to happen.”

Fischer, accordingly, came up with a controversial plan to thwart people from attending these services.

“We’re continuing to talk to these folks and ask them not to do that, to please reconsider,” the mayor said, according to the Examiner. “If there are gatherings on Sunday, Louisville Metro Police Department will be there on Sunday handing out information detailing the health risks involved, and I have asked LMPD to record license plates of all vehicles in attendance. We will share that information with our public health department, so they can follow up with the individuals that are out in church and gathering in groups, which is clearly a very, very unsafe practice.”

Criminalizing Easter

Suffice it to say that Fischer’s plan did not sit well with Kentuckians. As such, one local church in Louisville, the On Fire Christian Church, filed a lawsuit looking to stop the mayor’s “prohibition on churches holding drive-in services during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

On Saturday, United States District Judge Justin Walker granted the requested temporary restraining order against the municipal government. Now, the city is prevented from “enforcing; attempting to enforce; threatening to enforce; or otherwise requiring compliance with any prohibition on drive-in church services at On Fire.”

According to local Fox affiliate station WDRB, besides calling Fischer’s plan “stunning” and “beyond all reason, unconstitutional,” Walker wrote: “On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter. 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.'”

Kentuckians, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), celebrated the decision.

Grateful for this strong, eloquent ruling defending Kentuckians’ religious liberty from Judge Justin Walker, [President Donald Trump’s] outstanding nominee for the D.C. Circuit,” McConnell tweeted. “Of course church parking lots cannot be singled out with unfair standards that differ from other establishments.” We couldn’t agree more.

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