Sunday, May 10, 2020

6th Circuit Enjoins Ban On In-Person Worship Services

In Roberts v. Neace, (6th Cir., May 9, 2020), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction barring enforcement pending appeal of Kentucky Governor Andrew Beshear's COVID-19 order banning in-person church services at Maryville Baptist Church. A week ago, in another opinion, the same court barred the ban on drive-in services. The court now noted:
In the week since our last ruling, the Governor has not answered our concerns that the secular activities permitted by the order pose the same public-health risks as the kinds of in-person worship barred by the order. 
Earlier in its opinion, the court explained:
The orders allow “life-sustaining” operations and don’t include worship services in the definition. And many of the serial exemptions for secular activities pose comparable public health risks to worship services. For example: The exception for “life-sustaining” businesses allows law firms, laundromats, liquor stores, gun shops, airlines, mining operations, funeral homes, and landscaping businesses to continue to operate so long as they follow social-distancing and other health-related precautions.... But the orders do not permit soul-sustaining group services of faith organizations, even if the groups adhere to all the public health guidelines required of the other services. 
Keep in mind that the Church and its congregants just want to be treated equally....  The Governor has offered no good reason for refusing to trust the congregants who promise to use care in worship in just the same way it trusts accountants, lawyers, and laundromat workers to do the same.
Come to think of it, aren’t the two groups of people often the same people—going to work on one day and going to worship on another? How can the same person be trusted to comply with social-distancing and other health guidelines in secular settings but not be trusted to do the same in religious settings?
... Nor does it make a difference that faith-based bigotry did not motivate the orders. The constitutional benchmark is “government neutrality,” not “governmental avoidance of bigotry.”
Liberty Counsel issued a press release announcing the decision.