The Kansas Supreme Court issued a ruling that upholds Governor Laura Kelly’s decree that limits religious gatherings in the state to 10 people. State Republicans on the Legislative Coordinating Council voted to overturn the order on Wednesday, citing religious liberty, but in a hearing that featured video conferencing to comply with social distancing guidelines, the state Supreme Court reinstated the ban.
In a ruling issued on Saturday, the court said Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly was within her rights when she announced an order on Tuesday limiting religious gatherings in the state to 10 people. The ruling came after an extraordinary morning session in which the court’s seven justices heard oral arguments via videoconference in order to comply with social distancing guidelines.
“We agreed to expedite these proceedings due to the nature of the public health emergency all agree is present,” the court said in the majority opinion.
The court issued a narrow ruling that didn’t touch the issue of religious liberty and, instead, focused on language in the emergency order granting the governor extraordinary powers.
The resolution granted the governor emergency powers for responding to COVID-19 through May 1 and allows the State Finance Council to extend the emergency by 30 days. If extended, the resolution gives the Legislative Coordinating Council authority to reverse any executive order issued by the governor.
Justices determined the LCC doesn’t currently have that authority, based on the timetable outlined in the resolution. They declined to consider, as the governor argued, whether the Legislature can delegate such authority to the LCC in the first place.
What we’re seeing across the country is something akin to government-enforced bans on people exercising their religious freedom. There have been arrests, the threat of arrests, and fines for worshiping God.
There are ways to satisfy the demands of public health while maintaining religious liberty. But some in authority appear more eager to arrest violators than find a solution to a very sticky situation.
In a joint statement, House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, and Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, said the governor’s decision to go to court has created uncertainty during a time of crisis. If the emergency declaration isn’t extended before May 1, the state will lose federal relief funding.
“The question was never whether people should gather in church during these times,” the House Republicans said. “The answer to that is clearly no. The question was whether people should be arrested and jailed for going to church. The governor believed they should be. We think that goes too far.”
Republican senate President Susan Wagle observed, “Kelly’s orders display her misplaced priorities when she makes it an arrestable offense to attend church while prisoners are rioting, businesses are permanently closing, and state agencies are fumbling.”
Instead of bringing us together, the pandemic has brought into focus major differences in our worldviews. We inhabit a different reality than many on the left. And neither side appears willing to bridge the chasm between us.