Churches in the great state of Kentucky got some very good news on Friday when a federal judge ruled that they will be allowed to hold in-person gatherings this weekend as long as they follow social distancing guidelines.
This came after the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Nicholasville, Kentucky filed a lawsuit against the state’s Democratic Governor Andy Beshear, demanding that they be allowed to hold in-person services. They argued that Beshear’s ban on in-person services infringes upon their First Amendment rights, and U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove agreed.
Van Tatenhove granted a temporary restraining order that stops Beshear from “enforcing the prohibition on mass gatherings with respect to any in-person religious service which adheres to applicable social distancing and hygiene guidelines,” according to Lexington Herald-Leader. The judge opined:
Tabernacle Baptist Church wants to gather for corporate worship. They want to freely exercise their deeply held religious belief about what it means to be a faithful Christian. For them, it is “essential” that they do so. And they want to invoke the Constitution’s protection on this point.
But the governor, by executive order, has put a stop to that. He can do that, but he must have 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. Despite an honest motive, it does not appear at this preliminary stage that reason exists.
Van Tatenhove went on to point out that grocery and hardware stores have been crowded during the COVID-19 pandemic, and if social distancing measures are sufficient for those businesses, they should also be for places of worship.
“There is ample scientific evidence that COVID-19 is exceptionally contagious. But evidence that the risk of contagion is heightened in a religious setting any more than a secular one is lacking,” Van Tatenhove wrote. “If social distancing is good enough for Home Depot and Kroger, it is good enough for in-person religious services which, unlike the foregoing, benefit from constitutional protection.”
The judge’s ruling applies to all churches in Kentucky as well as to all places of worship in the state.