After some interesting official wrangling, authorities in two Kansas counties say they will enforce limits on church gatherings this weekend as set out in Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s April 7 executive order, issued to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Kelly’s order bars religious meetings and even funerals with more than ten people attending. Violating it is a misdemeanor offense bringing a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
A reporter from the Lawrence Journal-World observed about 40 cars in the parking lot of Heritage Baptist Church in Douglas County on Easter Sunday. Sheriff’s spokesperson Jennifer Hethcoat said at that time that the county could not enforce the governor’s order until it was published by the Kansas Secretary of State. The other county concerned is Geary County.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and other local law enforcement have been in touch with pastor the Rev. Scott Hanks, according to Hethcoat, who declined to share details about the conversation.
Kansas’ order was in legal limbo last week when Republican legislative leaders voted to revoke it, calling it executive overreach. At the time, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt encouraged residents attending religious services to observe the restrictions voluntarily.
In a memo to police and prosecutors, he also wrote” “we also strongly discourage law enforcement from attempting to enforce the requirements.”
On April 11 the state supreme court ordered the governor’s directive reinstated.
Police said that this weekend individuals who do not comply will be reported to the Douglas County district attorney’s office or arrested.
The Kansas City Star observed multiple cars in the parking lot Wednesday and more than a dozen people congregating a white tent behind the church.