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In the age of COVID-19, a fierce debate has developed over the church’s rights to host “drive-in” worship services.
These services allow congregants to meet in the church parking lots to worship.
To respect and observe the social distancing guidelines, church members remain in their car. This keeps themselves as well as those around them safe.
Members are able to listen to the sermon and sing songs of praise from their cars.
Louisville, KY Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat, was accused of “criminalizing” Easter celebrations.
He attempted to ban the On Fire Christian Church from even hosting drive-in church services.
Now, a federal court judge has stepped in and granted the church a “temporary restraining order” on Mayor Fischer.
The church will be allowed to host a drive-in Easter service.
More details on this developing story below:
It is unclear whether the "temporary restraining order" will allow the church to meet on future Sundays.
But On Fire Christian Church will definitely be holding a big and safe Easter celebration tomorrow.
The U.S. District Judge Justin Walker said that Mayor Fischer's attempt to ban the church gathering as a criminalization of "the communal celebration of Easter."
Local WDRB has more details on the federal judge's order against Mayor Fischer:
A federal judge has granted a temporary restraining order filed by a Louisville church against Mayor Greg Fischer to allow drive-in service on Easter Sunday.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Justin Walker of Louisville keeps the city from getting involved in On Fire Christian Church's drive-in services but doesn't apply to other churches in the city.
In his ruling, Walker blasted the mayor's decision to prohibit drive-in church services as "beyond all reason" and akin to what one might find only in a dystopian novel. Fischer, however, said that in a global pandemic, he is simply trying to save lives.
On Fire Christian Church filed a lawsuit Friday asking for the order. The church sought to "block (Fischer's) prohibition on churches holding drive-in services during the COVID-19 pandemic," according to the First Liberty Institute, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the church.
Representatives from the church said that for weeks they have been hosting in the church parking lot drive-in services that adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. "Gathering on Easter is critical" for its congregation, the church argued in the lawsuit.
Fischer, when announcing the ban, said he couldn't allow "hundreds of thousands" of people to drive around town this weekend in observance of Easter festivities when they need to be home riding out the pandemic.
However, on Saturday, Walker issued the restraining order, which prevents the city from "enforcing; attempting to enforce; threatening to enforce; or otherwise requiring compliance with any prohibition on drive-in church services at On Fire," according to court documents.
The First Amendment clearly states that the freedom to exercise religion shall not be infringed.
Churches across the nation have been creative in how they worship while also obeying social distancing recommendations.
Many churches have gone online, and many have turned to drive-in services, which keeps people separated safely in their cars.
On Fire church sued the city of Louisville and Mayor Fischer, arguing that "gathering on Easter is critical."
Though a federal court has weighed in, Mayor Fischer has said that he is "disappointed" that the Court ruled without consulting the city.
The Washington Post has more on Mayor Fischer's complaints against the federal judge:
Louisville’s On Fire church sued Fischer and the city Friday, arguing that the mayor’s suggestion against holding drive-in services violated the congregation’s constitutional rights. In the lawsuit, the church argues that “gathering on Easter is critical."
“We will continue to follow the CDC guidelines, and plan to have a great drive-in service on Sunday,” On Fire wrote in a Facebook post Saturday. “As we have from the beginning, we will continue to work with the mayor and the city to keep everyone safe and well. God bless.”
In response to Walker’s order Saturday, Fischer said in a statement that officials are still reviewing the ruling but were “disappointed the Court entered an order without giving the city an opportunity to explain our position and outline some of the discrepancies in the complaint.”
Fischer reiterated that he did not issue a “formal ban” on drive-in religious services, but “in the end, this ruling doesn’t change our message: It is not safe for people to attend in-person or drive-in services.” As of Saturday, Louisville had 536 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 40 deaths, according to Fischer.
“The science on COVID-19 is clear — the virus wants to spread to as many people as possible, and it kills,” Fischer said in his statement. “I have urged faith leaders not to hold in-person or drive-in services because I want to keep them and our city safe from this virus. The more disciplined we are now, the more lives we save, and the sooner we can come out of our houses and safely gather to worship together again.”
While Mayor Fischer's concerns are legitimate, the church argues that they are still obeying social distancing guidelines by keeping families isolated within their cars.
A drive-in church service has little to no human-to-human interaction, as everyone remains in their car and is able to listen to the service through their radio.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who happens to be from Kentucky, tweeted that he is "grateful for this strong, eloquent ruling defending Kentuckians’ religious liberty from Judge Justin Walker. … Of course church parking lots cannot be singled out with unfair standards that differ from other establishments."