Lawsuit Forces Kansas Governor to Rescind Order Closing Churches While Abortion Clinics Kill Babies

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 1, 2020   |   10:03AM   |   Topeka, KS

Under orders from pro-abortion Governor Laura Kelly, Kansans could be punished for going to church because of the coronavirus, but abortion facilities in the state continue to jeopardize lives by killing unborn babies. However, a lawsuit has forced the governor to rescind the controversial order.

Kelly’s executive order, issued just before Easter, bans religious services of more than 10 people. It also allows religious leaders and their congregants to be punished with fines of up to $2,500 and 12 months in jail for violations. Meanwhile, abortion businesses, including one in Wichita that kills unborn children in late-term abortions, can remain open.

A week ago, churches won their first battle as a federal district court issued a temporary restraining order requested by attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of two Kansas churches against Kelly’s mass gathering ban that unconstitutionally treats religious congregations different from many secular gatherings.

Then, Kelly was forded to agree to fix her COVID-19 mass gathering ban that unconstitutionally targets churches and, in the meantime, subject herself to a 14-day extension of the court-imposed temporary restraining order issued against her.

Now, Kelly has rescinded the anti-church order entirely. Kelly announced Thursday that, as a result of the Alliance Defending Freedom lawsuit First Baptist Church v. Kelly her order is being rescinded.

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer told he’s happy about the decision.

“Singling out churches for special punishment while allowing others to have greater freedom never made sense and was never constitutional. It’s a shame that it took a federal lawsuit and a temporary restraining order to finally prompt the governor to issue an order that she could easily have issued in the first place: one that doesn’t needlessly and unconstitutionally target churches,” he said.

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Langhofer added: “The new executive order that we have seen rids itself of the unnecessary and unlawful language the governor included in her previous mass gathering ban. We are pleased that, finally, churches and other religious congregations will no longer have to fear discriminatory punishment for engaging safely in activities that other similarly situated groups haven’t had to fear under the governor’s executive orders.”

The two churches of less than 100 people each are in rural Kansas counties with COVID-19 infection rates of less than one-tenth of one percent, and both churches have voluntarily implemented rigorous social distancing measures, including temperature checks, six-foot separations between persons or families, drastic occupancy limit reductions, no usage of church bulletins or offering plates, increased ventilation, availability of masks and hand sanitizer, and more. The churches are also working to hold drive-in or outdoor church services but wish to be able to safely meet in the church building if such services are not feasible.

The governor’s executive order carves out broad exemptions for 26 types of secular activities from its gathering ban, but the order singles out “churches and other religious services or activities” of 10 or more people regardless of whether social distancing, hygiene, and other efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 are practiced. And busy abortion clinics are allowed to remain open as well.

This prompted Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt to issue a memorandum to all Kansas prosecutors and law enforcement stating that the religious gathering prohibitions of the order “likely violate both state statute and the Kansas Constitution.” In light of that, the Kansas Legislative Coordinating Council voted to rescind the governor’s religious gathering ban. Kelly took the matter to the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled that the legislature didn’t have the authority to rescind the order, and that a separate lawsuit would need to be filed to challenge the constitutionality of the ban.

So ADF attorneys filed First Baptist Church v. Kelly in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas on behalf of First Baptist Church and its pastor, Stephen Ormord, in Dodge City and Calvary Baptist Church and its pastor, Aaron Harris, in Junction City. Joshua Ney and Ryan Kriegshauser, two of more than 3,100 attorneys allied with ADF, are serving as co-counsel in the case for the two churches.

As the lawsuit notes, U.S. Attorney General William Barr issued a statement on April 14 related to an ADF case in Mississippi that explains the federal government’s position that “the First Amendment and federal statutory law” prohibit governments from “impos[ing] special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity.”

“For example,” Barr wrote, “if a government allows movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other comparable places to assemble to remain open and unrestricted, it may not order houses of worship to close, limit their congregation size, or otherwise impede religious gatherings. Religious institutions must not be singled out for special burdens.”

Punishing church-goers is not just a possibility. It already is happening in the U.S.

Recently, police fined members of a Mississippi church $500 each for attending a “drive-in” church service. Supposedly they violated a social distancing order even though the church, Temple Baptist in Greenville, required attendees to stay in their vehicles with the windows up and listen to the worship service through their radios, according to the Washington Times. A Florida pastor also was arrested in March for holding church services.

Pro-life sidewalk counselors also are being arrested for offering information and resources to pregnant moms as they go into abortion facilities. Earlier this month, David Benham and several others were arrested for praying outside an abortion clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Social distancing measures are supposed to protect lives. But Kelly and other Democrat governors are allowing abortion facilities to remain open to kill unborn babies in elective abortions.

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In Kansas in particular, there are major concerns that abortion facilities may be jeopardizing the lives of all Kansans by bringing in abortionists and patients from other states who may have the coronavirus.

Operation Rescue recently uncovered information about a California abortionist practicing at a Wichita abortion facility after allegedly being exposed to the coronavirus. Pro-life advocates believe the abortionist was not tested for the virus and could be spreading it to patients.

Another abortionist may be practicing at the Wichita facility without a license. “The abortionist on duty over the eventful weekend was believed to be a former Trust Women abortionist named Cheryl Chastine, who allowed her Kansas medical license to expire in 2016, after quitting her job in Wichita.  It has not been renewed. Chastine is also not listed on Trust Women’s current 24-hour consent form as required by law,” according to the pro-life organization.

In response to these concerns, the Sedgwick County Commissioners approved a recommendation last week urging Kelly and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to include elective abortions in their restrictions on non-essential health care.

Writer C. Mitchell Shaw commented on the troubling situation:

Government is often mocked for its inefficiency, but in this case, the Kansas Supreme Court acted with extreme efficiency to trample the rights of church-goers. Perhaps the issue was never one of efficiency, but of priorities.

… A Kansan can visit a crowded abortion clinic and obtain an “elective surgery” to kill her unborn child without threat of arrest. But if a Kansan attends a religious service with even 11 people present and spread out widely across a building that seats hundreds, they all face arrest and prosecution.

That is the very definition of religious suppression by the state.

It also is a sign of politicians’ true priorities, ones that elevate certain human lives above others.