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Judge Condemns Church Bans on Easter as 'Dystopian'

Law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on Nov. 7, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

On Saturday, U.S. District Court Judge Justin Walker granted a temporary restraining order preventing Greg Fischer, the Democratic mayor of Louisville, Ky., from blocking drive-in services on Easter Sunday. In the name of fighting coronavirus, Fischer had banned church services where parishioners worship from the safety of their cars, with windows up, in a church parking lot — and he is not the only mayor to issue such a ban.

In an opinion with his ruling, Walker called the ban “dystopian,” in addition to “beyond all reason” and “unconstitutional.” He rightly prevented Fischer from carrying it out.

“On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter. 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. 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 judge wrote.

Indeed, dystopian is exactly the right word. The fact that tyrannical mayors would think it rational to issue such bans during Holy Week is downright chilling. These mayors — who are all Democrats — appear to be singling out Christian services during the most important week on the Christian calendar. The bans on drive-in services are particularly heinous because mayors gladly allow citizens to pick up food at drive-thru restaurants.

As Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) wrote in its lawsuit against Greenville, Miss., Mayor Errick Simmons, “according to the City, you can buy a hamburger or sit in your car at a drive-in restaurant with your windows rolled down, but you can’t sit in your car at a drive-in church service with your windows rolled up.”

“Protecting basic religious freedoms is essential, in both good times and bad,” Roger Byron, senior counsel at First Liberty, said in a statement. “We continue to advise religious institutions to follow the CDC’s guidelines and avoid mass gatherings, but the mayor’s prohibition on drive-in church services goes beyond those guidelines and violates state and federal law.”

Roger Byron, senior counsel at the religious freedom firm First Liberty, asked for a restraining order against Louisville Mayor Fischer. In his statement, Byron explained that First Liberty advises churches abide by Centers for Disease Control guidelines on social distancing in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus — but insisted that Fischer’s ban went far beyond these guidelines.

“We continue to advise religious institutions to follow the CDC’s guidelines and avoid mass gatherings, but the mayor’s prohibition on drive-in church services goes beyond those guidelines and violates state and federal law,” Byron insisted.

Drive-in services already represent a tremendous concession to social distancing guidelines. In fact, they represent a useful innovation. If parishioners sit in their cars with the windows up, they cannot spread the coronavirus to one another. They can, however, worship together virtually, either by listening to the pastor over the radio or watching him on their phones or laptops. In fact, drive-in services may be safer than a full livestream video option, since neighbors cannot join one another to watch the video together.

Even so, two Democratic mayors — in the Bible Belt, no less! — banned drive-in services during Holy Week. In doing so, they revealed the utter animus and hostility they have against Christians. How ghoulish.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.