Lawmakers overturn religious worship size limits in Kansas

Posted at 3:59 PM, Apr 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-08 22:03:55-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Lawmakers have overturned Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order restricting the size of religious gatherings amid the coronavirus outbreak after the state’s top prosecutor said it likely violates the state constitution.

The Legislative Coordinating Council voted 5-2 Wednesday to topple the order that limited in-person religious services and funerals to 10 people.

The move came after Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, said that while the order was “sound public-health advice that Kansans should follow,” he was discouraging law enforcement agencies and prosecutors statewide from attempting to enforce the requirements.

Kelly said the Attorney General's actions only serves to cause confusion among state emergency response systems and local law enforcement.

"I was so deeply troubled to learn that our attorney general has decided to launch a bizarre, confusing, overtly political attack at such a moment of tragedy, and that Republican legislative leaders have chosen to follow suit with a shockingly irresponsible decision that will put every Kansas life at risk,” Kelly said during an afternoon press conference.

Kelly condemned the actions further.

"There are real life consequences to the partisan games Republican leaders played today, and I simply cannot stand for it,” Kelly said. “Kansans are dying every day at the hand of this man, and there is no room, or excuse, for these petty political distractions.”

In a statement released Wednesday night, Schmidt said he disagreed with Kelly's comments that the reversal of the order to limit the size of religious gatherings was an "unnecessary distraction."

Schmidt said his point of view should not have been surprising.

“My office repeatedly advised against issuing the overreaching executive order regulating churches and notified her I would express my concerns publicly if she proceeded," Schmidt said in the statement. "She did, and so did I."

However, Schmidt said that it is important for Kansans to "follow sound public health advice and do not gather for religious services or for any other reason until the COVID-19 crisis has passed."

"I am confident Kansans of faith can be trusted to follow that important advice without their government threatening criminal sanctions for disobedience," he said in the statement.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Dr. Lee Norman said that while he's not a politician, he shares Kelly's sentiments.

"As a state health officer, I was disappointed by the actions today of this legislative group," Norman said. "I'm not a politician, but a pandemic is no time for politics. I cannot stress enough that we cannot let our guard down. We cannot let our population of people be confused by the message."

With Easter approaching, Kelly, a Democrat, issued the order Tuesday because of three outbreaks that had been connected to religious gatherings.