LAWRENCE, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order banning mass gatherings in churches was overruled by a federal judge on Saturday, granting a temporary restraining order.
This applies for only two churches in rural Kansas, First Baptist Church in Dodge City and Calvary Baptist Church in Junction City.
However, on a rainy Sunday morning, worship went on as usual inside Heritage Baptist Church in Lawrence amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Several members filed in one after another, while a Douglas County Sheriff’s deputy circled the building until the service ended.
Scott Hanks, senior pastor at Heritage Baptist Church, told 41 Action News the temporary restraining order is a win for worshippers.
"I'm so thankful those two churches did do the lawsuit,” Hanks said, “but it's not our goal to sue the governor. We just want the governor to follow the Constitution.”
Even though his church was not part of this lawsuit, court documents 41 Action News obtained state First Baptist and Calvary Baptist Church made a substantial showing that "developments of the current restrictions on religious activities shows religious activities were specifically targeted for more onerous restrictions than comparable secular activities.”
District Judge John Broomes wrote that “churches and religious activities appear to have been singled out among essential functions for stricter treatment.”
However, Kelly has said from the beginning that it was not about religious liberty but rather stopping the spread of the coronavirus.
A statement released by Kelly’s office stated, in part, "This is not about religion. This is about a public health crisis. This ruling was just a preliminary step.”
Alliance Defending Freedom represented the two churches and said the legal action could have broader implications.
"In order to issue this temporary restraining order, the court had to find that our clients have a substantial likelihood on prevailing on the merits,” said Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom.
A hearing for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for Thursday, April 23.