LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The mayor of Louisville, Kentucky and a church in the city that had filed suit to challenge a ban on drive-in services during the coronavirus pandemic have reached an agreement that will allow the in-car assemblies to move forward.
On Fire Christian Church had sued Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat and Roman Catholic, after he initially prohibited drive-in services, stating on April 9, “We are not allowing churches to gather either in person or in any kind of drive-through capacity. Okay, so if you are a church or you are a churchgoing member and you do that, you’re in violation … of the request from my office and city government to not do that.”
He warned that for those who decide to gather anyway, the “Louisville Metro Police Department will be there on Sunday handing out information detailing the health risks involved, and I have asked LMPD to record license plates of all vehicles in attendance.” The information would then be passed on to the Department of Health, which would then contact the individuals about the situation.
The church had been holding drive-in meetings for several weeks, and wanted to do so for Easter, outlining in its lawsuit that some sort of physical assembly is needed, especially in a challenging time as this.
“Indeed, members of the church feel that they need the support of each other and their faith now more so than ever. In the words of Wendy Reesor, a member of the church, “It’s just really great that [the Church] get[s] to fellowship and come together at a time
like this. It helps with the isolation […] It’s really confusing for a lot of people and we need hope.'”
It also noted that Gov. Andy Beshear is not opposed to drive-in services as long as “nobody gets out of the car, cars are six feet apart, [and] you’re not passing things in the car.”
U.S. District Judge Justin Walker, nominated to the bench by President Trump, promptly granted On Fire’s request for an emergency restraining order, sharply criticizing Mayor Fisher as he called the ban on drive-in services “stunning,” and “beyond all reason, unconstitutional.”
“On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter. That sentence is one that this court never expected to see outside the pages of a dystopian novel, or perhaps the pages of ‘The Onion,'” he wrote.
Walker pointed to Scripture and also the journey of the pilgrims, who sought to escape religious persecution, and also noted that drive-through restaurants and liquor stores are still allowed to be open.
“Here, Louisville has targeted religious worship by prohibiting drive-in church services, while not prohibiting a multitude of other non-religious drive-ins and drive-throughs — including, for example, drive-through liquor stores. Moreover, Louisville has not prohibited parking in parking lots more broadly — including, again, the parking lots of liquor stores,” he wrote.
“[I]f beer is ‘essential,’ so is Easter.”
On Tuesday, the Texas-based First Liberty Institute announced that On Fire Christian Church had reached an agreement with Mayor Fischer that would allow them to hold drive-in services while satisfying the safety concerns of the government.
Under the terms of the agreement, the church will ensure that vehicles are parked six feet apart and that attendees remain in their cars with their windows no more than halfway down.
“We are grateful to Mayor Fischer and Louisville city officials who worked with us to ensure their policies are both consistent with the Constitution and the CDC’s guidelines,” said senior counsel Roger Byron in a statement. “During this challenging time, we need to see more of this kind of cooperation between government officials and the religious community.”
“My goal all along has been to protect the citizens of Louisville Metro from this dreadful COVID-19 virus, and I believe this agreed order accomplishes that goal,” Fisher also said, according to local television station WLKY. “I would like to thank Pastor Salvo and the members of the On Fire congregation for their recognition of the need for social distancing as we battle this deadly pandemic. And my thanks to the attorneys on both sides who worked out this settlement.”
First Liberty says that someone in opposition to the church left nails at the entrance/exit this past weekend, and hopes that the agreement will end the violence.