Another judicial nomination pays off.
A federal judge on Saturday blocked Kansas from limiting attendance at in-person religious worship services or activities to 10 people or fewer to check the spread of the coronavirus, signaling that he believes that it’s likely that the policy violates religious freedom and free speech rights.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge John Broomes in Wichita prevents the enforcement of an order issued by Gov. Laura Kelly if pastors and congregations observe social distancing. The judge’s decision will remain in effect until May 2; he has a hearing scheduled Thursday in a lawsuit filed against Kelly by two churches and their pastors.
Broomes is the second case of a Trump judge intervening in a coronavirus religious freedom case.
It’s a big deal that this is even possible. In New York and New Jersey, religious freedom is dead and all religious gatherings have been banned. But cases like this can serve as an important precedent for beginning the national restoration of religious freedom.
“Churches and religious activities appear to have been singled out among essential functions for stricter treatment,” Broomes wrote in his order.
The lawsuit over church gatherings was filed Thursday by First Baptist Church in Dodge City and Pastor Stephen Ormond and Calvary Baptist Church in Junction City and Pastor Aaron Harris. The lawsuit said both churches held indoor Easter services with 20 or more members of the congregation present.
Broomes’ order does not let the churches have services without any restrictions. Instead, he ordered them to abide by recommendations for social distancing that people stay 6 feet apart and to continue following other practices the lawsuit said they had imposed, such as not using collection plates.
“Public safety is important, but so is following the Constitution,” said Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel for the Christian-founded and conservative Alliance for Defending Freedom, which was involved in the case.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, warned that it would be unconstitutional to cite or fine churches and pastors for violating Kelly’s order.
“Ultimately, the people were forced to stop her,” Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said in a statement.
That’s where freedom comes from.