Federal judge in Kentucky says churches can hold in-person worship services

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A worshiper listens to a song during the drive in service at On Fire Christian Church, on April 05, 2020, in Louisville, Kentucky. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic limiting gatherings of people,... moreA worshiper listens to a song during the drive in service at On Fire Christian Church, on April 05, 2020, in Louisville, Kentucky. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic limiting gatherings of people, churches have responded with alternate ways to have their services. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Just as a judge in the state of Maine has determined that the governor there my ban in-person church services, a federal judge in Kentucky ruled on May 10 that in-person gatherings are allowed there — two weeks earlier than the governor had planned — as the coronavirus outbreak continues to create constitutional conflicts.

U.S. District Judge Greg Van Tatenhove ruled that Gov. Andy Beshear needed “a compelling reason for using his authority to limit a citizen’s right to freely exercise something we value greatly — the right of every American to follow their conscience on matters related to religion,” according to ABC News.

The judge called the governor’s motives honest, but said “it does not appear at this preliminary stage that reason exists” to limit people’s rights.

The ruling lets churches reopen as long as social distancing is practiced and proper hygienic practices are in place. It came after Tabernacle Baptist Church in Nicholasville, Ky. filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of Beshear’s order barring gatherings of more than 10 individuals.

Tatenhove noted that other businesses are open amid the pandemic, and while there is “ample” evidence proving that COVID-19 spreads readily, evidence to show that the risk of contagion is “heightened in a religious setting any more than a secular one is lacking.”

“If social distancing is good enough for Home Depot and Kroger, it is good enough for in-person religious services, which, unlike the foregoing, benefit from constitutional protection,” the judge wrote.

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