LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A federal judge has denied a Kentucky church's bid to block enforcement of the governor's restrictions on faith-based gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. District Judge David Hale in Louisville on Saturday night rejected a motion for a restraining order by Maryville Baptist Church near Louisville, the Courier Journal reported.
Maryville Baptist Church and its pastor, Jack Roberts, filed the federal lawsuit Friday, arguing that Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration infringed on the congregation’s constitutional rights.
But Hale said Beshear’s order bans all mass gatherings and does not discriminate against religion. Hale also noted that other forms of group worship are permitted, including drive-in and online services.
Roberts and Maryville Baptist held in-person services again on Sunday in defiance of the coronavirus restrictions.
“It's not something that Frankfort or Washington or anybody else can take away because it's God's house.” Roberts said in his sermon. “I’m just telling you right now, the world don’t want us to ever get together as a church.
"We have to assemble together to be able to help one another, to meet the needs of the Gospel of Christ, to reach out with the Gospel of Christ so folks that are lost can get saved.”
Three churchgoers who attended an in-person Easter service at Maryville Baptist Church on April 12 have likewise asked a federal judge in Covington to declare Beshear’s order relating to churches to be unconstitutional. They received quarantine notices on their cars ordering them to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Beshear has said his mass gathering orders do not single out churches. He has said worshippers across the state have found ways to pray and participate in a religious services without gathering in person at churches.
The church's lawsuit said attendees inside the church followed social distancing and hygiene requirements, staying at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart.
Quoting a Bible passage about church gatherings, Roberts said Sunday, “There’s nothing in there that says they got 6 foot apart."
A federal judge has previously ruled that Louisville could not halt another local church’s Easter drive-in service. In that case, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, has filed a brief that argues Beshear's state order is written broadly enough to unconstitutionally ban drive-in services, as well.
In a previous brief in the Louisville case, Beshear has said his order doesn't ban drive-thru church services.
The state said Saturday that its death toll from the coronavirus has reached at least 144. In all, there have been a total of more than 2,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state since early March.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in a few weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including life-threatening pneumonia.