Mary Margaret Olohan, DCNF
Kentucky Mayor Greg Fischer will allow religious services to continue in Louisville, backing down from his former order prohibiting Easter church gatherings.
Drive-in services consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing requirements may be held, according to an agreement between the Kentucky mayor and On Fire Christian Church’s legal representation, the nonprofit public interest law firm First Liberty Institute announced in a Tuesday press release.
“We are grateful to Mayor Fischer and Louisville city officials who worked with us to ensure their policies are both consistent with the Constitution and the CDC’s guidelines,” said senior counsel for First Liberty Institute Roger Byron in a statement. “During this challenging time, we need to see more of this kind of cooperation between government officials and the religious community.”
News of the agreement came after U.S. District Court Judge Justin Walker granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) April 11 preventing Fischer from blocking Easter drive-in services at On Fire Church. The Louisville church had been hosting drive-in church services for several weeks consistent with the CDC’s coronavirus guidelines, according to First Liberty.
Walker’s order prevented Louisville from “enforcing; attempting to enforce; threatening to enforce; or otherwise requiring compliance with any prohibition on drive-in church services at On Fire,” court documents show.
The judge condemned Fischer’s order in a memorandum opinion that compared the order to a report from the satirical publication, “The Onion.”
“That sentence is one that this Court never expected to see outside the pages of a dystopian novel, or perhaps the pages of The Onion,” Walker said. “But two days ago, citing the need for social distancing during the current pandemic, Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fischer ordered Christians not to attend Sunday services, even if they remained in their cars to worship — and even though it’s Easter.”
“The Mayor’s decision is stunning,” the opinion concludes. “And it is, ‘beyond all reason,’ unconstitutional.”
Fischer said the agreement still helps protect residents from coronavirus.
“I would like to thank Pastor Salvo and the members of the On Fire congregation for their recognition of the need for social distancing as we battle this deadly pandemic,” he said in a statement, according to WDRB. “And my thanks to the attorneys on both sides who worked out this settlement.”
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