First Liberty Prevails: Two Pioneering Legal Victories as Churches Resume In-Person Gatherings

May 15, 2020
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by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read

Now that many states have announced that they will reopen businesses and commerce, houses of worship nationwide are also gradually taking steps to resume in-person services.

During this reopening phase, First Liberty continues to be the leader in victories for churches, religious leaders and faith-based organizations. In fact, throughout the current pandemic, our legal team has had an unparalleled 100% win-rate.

Today, we’re happy to report that our attorneys secured another two incredible victories to ensure state governors don’t intrude upon freedoms or violate the constitutional right of churches and religious Americans to live out their faith.

Second Kentucky Victory: Reclaiming Right of Churches to Hold In-Person Services

Last week, First Liberty won a second victory in the state of Kentucky, this time on behalf of Tabernacle Baptist Church (TBC) of Nicholasville, challenging Governor Andy Beshear’s executive orders that prohibit in-person church services and threaten criminal penalties.

At a recent hearing, a federal judge issued a decision allowing mass gatherings with respect to any in-person religious service, as long as the people gathered comply with social distancing and hygiene guidelines.

This is yet another pioneering win for religious freedom during the COVID-19 crisis, as it marks the first legal victory setting a precedent and federal statewide injunction to protect the right of churches and people of faith to resume gathering in-person.

Our most recent triumph in Kentucky comes only a few weeks after First Liberty attorneys secured a victory for On Fire Christian Church in the city of Louisville. By helping that congregation reclaim its right to host CDC compliant drive-in church services, this became the seminal and first major legal triumph in defense of churches and religious liberty during the current health crisis.

Indeed, our Louisville victory became the “first case heard across the country”—making it clear that permanent restrictions on religious freedom will never be tolerated as long as First Liberty has anything to say about it.

Criminalizing religious gatherings is an outrageous overreach that hurts religious freedom.

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Winning in Washington: Putting a Stop to Criminalization of Bible Studies

A very similar abuse of authority occurred in the state of Washington, where First Liberty sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) on behalf of our client, Joshua Freed, against Washington Governor, Jay Inslee.

Governor Inslee imposed a ban on religious gatherings of any size during the COVID-19 pandemic, even prohibiting two people from meeting together to pray and read scripture and criminalizing all religious gatherings outside of family members.

Mr. Freed and his wife hosted Bible studies in their home weekly for the past two-and-a-half years. During the pandemic, Mr. Freed made efforts to host the Bible study via remote meetings. Eventually, Mr. Freed opted to meet one-on-one with participants outdoors, with only one meeting per day, following CDC guidelines and taking extra safety precautions.

But because of the Governor’s onerous restrictions, Mr. Freed couldn’t even have a one-on-one Bible study or pray with a neighbor in his own front yard! It was a crime!

The good news is that at last week’s hearing, First Liberty scored a victory reclaiming Mr. Freed’s right to live out his faith at home, similar to our victories earlier this year for retired lay minister Donna Dunbar, and retired Lutheran minister, Ken Hauge. The Governor conceded that Mr. Freed can have a one-on-one Bible study and that he will not enforce the rules against home Bible studies on a one-on-one basis.

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

As attacks against churches continue to take place all across our nation during the “new normal,” we believe the work we are doing is vital for our freedoms and the future of our country. And it is only through your support that we stand ready to defend your right to live out your faith.

Will you help First Liberty continue to stop the criminalization of at-home Bible studies, and reclaim religious freedom against policies that target in-person church services?

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