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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

Go deeper

Aug 10, 2020 - Health

At least 48 local public health leaders have quit or been fired during pandemic

Former California public health director Dr. Sonia Angell on Feb. 27 in Sacramento, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

At least 48 local and state-level public health leaders have retired, resigned or been fired across 23 states since April, according to a review by the AP and Kaiser Health News.

Driving the news: California public health director Dr. Sonia Angell resigned on Sunday without explanation, a few days after the state fixed a delay in reporting coronavirus test results that had affected reopenings for schools and businesses, AP reports.

Rahm Emanuel questioned on murder of Laquan McDonald in confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Oct. 20. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the murder of Laquan McDonald during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, saying that "there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this."

Catch up quick: McDonald was a Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police during Emanuel's tenure as the city's mayor. The 2014 shooting triggered massive protests, both because of its nature and the fact that the officers' body-cam footage was concealed for years.

3 hours ago - World

Biden's ambassador nominee: "China is not an Olympian power"

Nick Burns testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee to serve as ambassador to China delivered a stark assessment of the challenges the U.S. faces in confronting Beijing, but stressed that the rising superpower is "not all-powerful" and the West retains "substantial" advantages.

The big picture: Nicholas Burns, a retired career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, used his confirmation hearing Wednesday to echo the growing bipartisan consensus that China poses "the greatest threat to the security of our country and the democratic world" in the 21st century.