LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer to permit religious gatherings that carefully and strictly comply with CDC guidelines for combating the spread of COVID-19.
In a letter obtained by Kentucky Today, McConnell told Fischer it was “important that we continue to respect and protect the constitutional rights of our citizens” and that includes the right to freely exercise their religion.
Fischer has prohibited Christian churches from holding drive-in services in church parking lots on Easter Sunday irrespective of whether those services strictly comply with the CDC guidelines for mitigating the transmission of COVID-19.
“But to my knowledge,” he wrote, “the government has not imposed similar wholesale bans on gatherings of people in vehicles for commercial purposes – including large, heavily trafficked retail operations, grocery stores, and many others.”
The First Amendment prohibits the government from singling out people and businesses for disfavored treatment merely because they are religious. Kentucky law further prohibits the government from limiting the free exercise of religion by anything other than the least-restrictive means necessary to achieve the government’s objective.
“When the government permits people in vehicles to gather in parking lots for secular purposes but prohibits them from doing so for religious purposes, it raises the specter that the government is singling religious people out for disfavored treatment,” McConnell wrote in the letter.
He said it suggests that a flat prohibition on religious gatherings that are strictly complying with CDC guidelines is not the least-restrictive means necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“I believe churches should be following CDC guidelines on mitigating the transmission of COVID-19 and support temporary government regulations consistent with that guideline,” he wrote. “Religious organizations share the national responsibility to right the disease’s spread.”
McConnell said the churches meeting in open defiance of CDC guidelines and contributing to the spread of the disease are “troubling and disheartening.”
However, he wrote, religious people should not be singled out for disfavored treatment. McConnell said Kentuckians and all Americans rely on faith communities for comfort and guidance particularly during the holy season of Easter and Passover.
“I believe the government has means to stop the spread of COVID-19 short of a flat ban on gatherings of people in vehicles for religious purposes,” he wrote. “I, therefore, urge you to permit religious gatherings that carefully and strictly comply with CDC guidelines for combating the spread of COVID-19.”
Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director-Treasurer Todd Gray was thankful for McConnell’s effort.
“I am grateful for Senator McConnell speaking to this issue as it raises concerns about the singling out of churches in [Fischer's] ban on drive-in worship services,” Gray said. “I personally reached out to Mayor Fischer’s office by phone and by email, as did many others in the Louisville area, to express these concerns. Hopefully, Mayor Fischer can see a clear way to serve churches that are striving to operate within the clear guidelines by Governor Beshear and the CDC.”
Gov. Andy Beshear has not been opposed to the drive-in services as long as these four guidelines are followed:
--No more than a single-family that lives together in a car.
--Cars must be parked more than six feet apart.
--No one can get out of their car.
--Nothing can be passed between the cars.
Fischer prohibited drive-in services in Jefferson County and they were also banned in Hopkins County by the judge-executive after a revival church service there is connected to at least 30 coronavirus cases.
Beshear said across the commonwealth’s 120 counties that “the number of worship houses we have, most people are doing the right thing.”
He said drive-in religious services are allowed in places that didn’t specifically ban them, like Hopkins and Jefferson counties.