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Louisville church sues mayor for prohibiting drive-in Easter services

 

A Louisville, Ky., church is suing Mayor Greg Fischer (D) for not allowing it to host drive-in religious services on Easter due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit public interest law firm, announced that it filed the temporary restraining order on behalf of On Fire Christian Church. The organization filed the petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky with the help of two law firms.

“Protecting basic religious freedoms is essential, in both good times and bad,” said Roger Byron, senior counsel at First Liberty. “We continue to advise religious institutions to follow the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines and avoid mass gatherings, but the mayor’s prohibition on drive-in church services goes beyond those guidelines and violates state and federal law.”

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On Fire Christian Church said it has been hosting drive-in services in the church parking lot for weeks due to stay-at-home orders aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19, which has infected at least 1,693 people in the state as of Friday evening. 

Cars are required to be parked six feet apart, and all churchgoers must remain in their cars with windows no more than halfway open for the entirety of the service.

For the planned Easter service, the church said it was bringing in multiple security guards to ensure congregants are complying with guidance.

Fischer on Tuesday said he would not allow the drive-in services during Holy Week, saying he can't allow "hundreds of thousands" of people to drive around the urban area in observance of Easter festivities when they need to be home.

First Liberty, however, noted that Fischer is allowing drive-in restaurant pick-up orders to continue.

The petition argues, “Defendants’ targeting of religious adherents from gathering in a manner consistent with governmental social distancing guidelines while permitting similar (and at times even more intimate) social interaction to continue unabated in retail and commercial establishments, flies in the face of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Sections 1 and 5 of the Kentucky Constitution, and the Kentucky Religious Freedom Act.  A temporary restraining order is thus proper to protect Plaintiff’s religious freedom.” 

The Hill has reached out to Fischer’s office for comment.