COVID-19: Judge Grants Restraining Order in Louisville | First Liberty

Judge Grants Restraining Order Against Louisville, KY Mayor in Dispute Over Drive-in Church Service on Easter

Mayor’s policy singles out religious gathering in a manner inconsistent with CDC Guidelines, state and federal law

U.S. District Court Judge Justin Walker granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing Louisville, Kentucky Mayor Greg Fischer from blocking On Fire Church from holding drive-in services on Easter. The TRO was filed on April 10, 2020 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky by First Liberty Institute, WilmerHale, and Swansburg & Smith, PLLC, on behalf of On Fire Christian Church.

You can read the judge’s order is here.

“Judge Walker recognized that the mayor’s prohibition of drive-in church services on Easter violated the church’s religious freedom,” said Roger Byron, Senior Counsel at First Liberty. “The church will conduct the Easter drive-in service tomorrow with grateful hearts and in full compliance with the CDC’s guidelines.”

“Religion gives people hope, and no religious holiday in the Christian calendar embodies hope more than Easter. We are grateful that, in this challenging time for our country, Judge Walker upheld our ideals of religious liberty and a celebration of hope exercised in a responsible manner,” said Matthew Martens, partner at WilmerHale.

The court’s order stated: “The Mayor’s decision is stunning. And it is, ‘beyond all reason,’ unconstitutional.” The order prevents “Louisville from enforcing; attempting to enforce; threatening to enforce; or otherwise requiring compliance with any prohibition on drive-in church services at On Fire.  Unless the Court enters this Temporary Restraining Order, the members of On Fire will suffer irreparable harm. The government plans to substantially burden their religious practice on one of the most important holidays of the Christian calendar, Easter Sunday. But Louisville ought not to view the limits of this injunction as a green light to violate the religious liberty of non-parties.”

On Fire Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky has been hosting drive-in church services in its parking lot for several weeks consistent with the CDC’s guidelines and again wants to host a drive-in church service this Sunday for Easter. In addition to cars being parked six feet apart, all congregants will remain in their cars with windows no more than half open for the entirety of the service. Multiple security personnel will be present to ensure proper spacing between cars and orderly compliance with all guidelines.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced a prohibition on all Easter church service gatherings in the city, to include drive-in services where people remain in their cars. At the same time, the Mayor permits drive-in restaurant pick-ups to continue unabated. There are also retail shopping centers permitted to continue their operations with cars gathering in their parking lots and people walking in the parking lots and the aisles of those stores.

Even though we are in the midst of a pandemic, it is essential that we protect religious liberty. And while we will tolerate temporary state-mandated restrictions for the sake of demonstrating love for our fellow man, we will not—nor should not—tolerate churchgoers being ticketed by the police for following CDC guidelines at church.

This has to stop now.

First Liberty’s team of legal experts is on the front lines of this crucial fight to ensure that our rights to religious freedom are not compromised.


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