Religious Law

6th Circuit rules Kentucky church can host in-person services; federal judge allows it statewide

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The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Cincinnati ruled Saturday that the Maryville Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, may host in-person church services while an appeal of its case is pending.

The 6th Circuit granted an injunction allowing the services, despite orders by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear that ban mass gatherings and require the closure of all businesses that are not “life-sustaining.” Churches aren’t deemed to be life-sustaining under the governor’s order, except when they provide food, shelter and social services.

The Lexington Herald-Leader has coverage; Liberty Counsel has a press release on the May 9 injunction.

The appeals court said Beshear’s restrictions on in-person services likely prohibit free exercise of religion in violation of the First and 14th Amendments.

The court noted that the church plans to follow social distancing and hygiene requirements that must be used by life-sustaining businesses.

The 6th Circuit ruled in an appeal of a May 4 order by U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman, which upheld Beshear’s ban on mass gatherings but struck down Kentucky’s restrictions on out-of-state travel. The case is Roberts v. Neace.

The 6th Circuit ruled one week after it allowed the Maryville Baptist Church to host drive-in services, if the church follows public health requirements mandated for life-sustaining entities. This May 2 ruling was in a different case involving the church, Maryville Baptist Church v. Beshear.

The judge overseeing the case in which the 6th Circuit allowed drive-in services, U.S. District Judge David Hale, ruled Friday that Maryville Baptist Church could host in-person services.

A second judge, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove, also granted an injunction in yet another church case Friday. The injunction allows in-person services at any Kentucky church that follows health guidelines. That case is Tabernacle Baptist Church of Nicholasville v. Beshear.

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