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Judge grants temporary stay on Kansas governor's order to limit church gatherings

Churches challenged the restrictions imposed by Gov. Laura Kelly

Updated: April 19, 2020 - 12:54pm

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A federal judge has ruled against restrictions that Democratic Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly imposed on religious gatherings amid the coronavirus crisis.

Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge John Broomes granted a temporary restraining order on the issue of limiting the number of people attending religious services, after two churches and pastors challenged the restriction.

Executive orders issued this month by the Kansas governor limit services to 10 or fewer congregants, but allow for preachers, music performers and others conducting the events to go over 10, provided that they engage in social distancing.

In granting the temporary restraining order, Judge Broomes said that when holding their services, the plaintiffs must engage in social distancing and other measures that they themselves had suggested. 

"Given the similarities of physical proximity between these 'essential' secular gatherings and Plaintiffs’ religious gatherings (which are also deemed essential under EO 20-16), the court finds that Plaintiffs can likely show that the broad prohibition against in-person religious services of more than ten congregants is not narrowly tailored to achieve the stated public health goals where the comparable secular gatherings are subjected to much less restrictive conditions," the judge wrote. 

"For that reason, and for the reasons previously stated," he wrote, "Plaintiffs have shown they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim alleging a violation of their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion."

A preliminary injunction hearing is slated for April 23.

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