May 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Court blocks Kentucky governor's ban on mass church gatherings

Man holding a sign on the road about a drive-in church

Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

A federal court ruled Friday that Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear cannot temporarily ban mass gatherings at religious services, giving churches and other religious institutions a pathway to hold services, AP reports.

The big picture: Churches in some states have been challenging governors' short-term bans on mass gatherings, saying stay-at-home orders infringe on Americans' right to religious assembly. However, state and local officials are trying to balance that freedom while slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

The state of play: Kentucky churches and other places of worship must adhere to social distancing and hygiene guidelines when they reopen.

  • U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove said Beshear had “an honest motive” in trying to protect Kentuckians' health and safety amid the coronavirus outbreak, but the governor didn't give "a compelling reason for using his authority to limit a citizen's right to freely exercise something we value greatly — the right of every American to follow their conscience on matters related to religion.”

Zoom out:

  • In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam argued that allowing churches to hold gatherings of more than 10 people "would seriously undermine" efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, AP reports. The state is being sued by Lighthouse Fellowship Church of Chincoteague after its pastor received a citation for hosting 16 people at a Sunday service.
  • In Michigan, three churches are suing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order in federal court, claiming it infringes on their First Amendment rights to assemble, per The Detroit News.

Go deeper: God and COVID-19

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