Judge rules in favor of Louisville church, says mayor's ban on drive-in services 'criminalized' Easter

A federal court judge bucked an order from Louisville, Ky., Mayor Greg Fischer (D) that disallows drive-in church services over the weekend amid the pandemic, saying the measures "criminalized" Easter celebrations.

On Fire Christian Church sued Fischer and the city of Louisville on Friday, claiming that the mayor's directive for churches to forgo gatherings to aid in slowing the spread of the coronavirus violates constitutional rights and religious liberties.

U.S. District Judge Justin Walker issued a temporary restraining order Saturday, saying, "On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter," the Louisville Courier Journal reported.

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The judge banned the city government from "enforcing; attempting to enforce; threatening to enforce; or otherwise requiring compliance with any prohibition on drive-in church services at On Fire."

He also granted the church's motion for an oral argument scheduled for April 14.

The church said it had been hosting drive-in services in the church parking lot for weeks due to stay-at-home orders, requiring cars to park six feet apart and instructing parishioners to remain in their vehicles.

While the mayor loosened his directives, he issued an address Saturday morning actively discouraging drive-in church services on Easter weekend, telling people to stay home.

He said it hurts him to urge churches to cancel services but added, "I'm doing it because I don't want people to die."