Apr 18, 2020

Americans United for Separation of Church and State denounced a federal court decision today to block Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s public health order from including religious gatherings in the temporary ban on large groups. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, at least 10 decisions have been issued in lawsuits that were filed to challenge public health orders that temporarily restrict both secular and religious gatherings equally. The U.S. District Court in Kansas is now one of only two courts to prevent these temporary restrictions from being applied to religious gatherings, and the only court to rule against a statewide order.

“Especially during hard times, we must hold fast to our constitutional principles, including the separation of religion and government,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “Gov. Kelly’s public health order does not violate religious freedom; it ensures that the government is not favoring some people’s religious practices in a way that endangers other people’s lives. As we’ve already seen in Kansas and across the country, COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate between religious and secular gatherings – it spreads easily at both, putting the health of entire communities at risk.

“We sympathize with Kansans who find solace in communal religious services and applaud the faith communities who are finding creative new ways to worship together virtually. We will get through this crisis together, even if not in person.” 

In the past month, Americans United has called on Gov. Kelly, as well as the governors and public health officials of Arkansas, Connecticut, Michigan and New Mexico, to stop exempting worship services and other religious gatherings from executive orders that prohibit the public from gathering in large groups. These religious exemptions not only pose a significant risk to the public health, they also violate the Constitution’s promise of church-state separation, which demands that religious and secular gatherings be treated equally.

Americans United has also filed friend-of-the-court briefs opposing four lawsuits that requested religious exemptions to public health orders. To date, none of these lawsuits has been successful.

Americans United’s March 25 letter to Gov. Kelly.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.