'Despite an honest motive,' Federal Judge reverses restrictions on Kentucky churches

Photo: MGN
Photo: MGN(WHSV)
Published: May. 9, 2020 at 12:53 AM EDT
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All Kentucky churches may freely hold in-person services starting on May 10, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The decision from U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove said, as long as houses of worship abide by social distancing guidelines from the Center for Disease Control, they may continue holding service.

The judge said that Governor Andy Beshear can put a stop to in-person gatherings, even within churches, given he has "a compelling reason."

"Despite an honest motive," the judge said, "it does not appear at this preliminary stage that reason exists."

The bulk of the ruling is centered around "the right of every American to follow their conscience on matters related to religion."

The lawsuit was filed by the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Nicholasville.

The ruling says that since the outbreak began Tabernacle has ceased all in-person services and instead broadcast their services online or held drive-in services. Tabernacle considers these substitutes to be 'cold comforts'.

“Tabernacle has a sincerely-held religious belief that online services and drive-in services do not meet the Lord’s requirement that the church meet together in person for corporate worship.”

It is for this reason, the order states, that Tabernacle argues that the orders violate its First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion and freedom of assembly.

The Sixth Circuit Court also addressed a similar challenge to Governor Beshear's Order during the case of Maryville Baptist Church, Inc. v. Beshear, where Maryville Baptist claimed the Governor's order violated their constitutional rights after attendees of their in-person Easter service were ordered to self-quarantine which ruled that the state could not block drive-in services.

Ultimately, the Sixth Circuit determined that the same restrictions that were applied in this case, which the court criticized as “inexplicably applied to one group and exempted from another” were the same as the ones Tabernacle was challenging.

The court said in the ruling that the risk of contagion being more prevalent in a religious setting was "lacking".

"If social distancing isgood enough for Home Depot and Kroger, it is good enough for in-person religious services," the ruling states. "Which, unlike the foregoing, benefit from constitutional protection.

It is unclear if the ruling will be challenged in the Supreme Court.

You can read the full ruling below: