Saturday, April 11, 2020

Court Allows Drive-In Church Services For Easter In Kentucky; In-Person Attendees Face Quarantine

In On Fire Christian Center, Inc. v. Fischer, (WD KY, April 11. 2020), a Kentucky federal district court issued a temporary restraining order barring the city of Louisville from enforcing a COVID-19 related ban on drive-in Easter services that were planned by a Louisville church. The court began its opinion as follows:
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. 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 Mayor’s decision is stunning.
And it is, “beyond all reason,” unconstitutional.
The court explained in part:
Here, Louisville has targeted religious worship by prohibiting drive-in church services, while not prohibiting a multitude of other non-religious drive-ins and drive-throughs – including, for example, drive-through liquor stores. Moreover, Louisville has not prohibited parking in parking lots more broadly – including, again, the parking lots of liquor stores. When Louisville prohibits religious activity while permitting non-religious activities, its choice “must undergo the most rigorous of scrutiny.”That scrutiny requires Louisville to prove its interest is “compelling” and its regulation is “narrowly tailored to advance that interest.”
The day before the decision was issued, Kentucky's attorney general issued a Statement (full text) saying in part:
We are aware that some Kentucky jurisdictions are discussing a prohibition of drive-in church services for the upcoming Easter holiday.  As long as religious groups and worshippers are complying with current Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) recommendations for social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, we see no problem with these drive-in services occurring.
Religious organizations should not be treated any differently than other entities that are simultaneously conducting drive-through operations, while also abiding by social distancing policies....
This leniency does not, however, extend to in-person church services. As reported by WHAS News, Kentucky's governor says that anyone attending mass gatherings, including church services, this weekend, will be required to be quarantined for 14 days. Gov. Andy Beshear said the state record license plates those attending such gatherings and will give the information to local health departments who will then order quarantines.

UPDATE: On April 21, the Louisville Courier Journal reported:
On Fire Christian Church has reached an agreement with Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and city officials to continue to hold drive-in services while abiding by social distancing guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.