Governor Kelly Continues Religious Freedom Assault

April 25

As we get near the potential end of the stay-at-home order in Kansas (though the exact date seems to be up for debate), everyone has a different idea of how we move forward at this point. I won’t claim to know the best answers across the board. What I do know is that we need to move forward in grace and wisdom. One of the verses that has been most meaningful is when Judah cried out to the Lord in 2 Chronicles 2:12 “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

Some of you may be feeling this way (I know I’ve at least had moments). This is a season where we are all having to learn to walk and chew gum. We can’t keep the economy almost entirely shut down forever, nor should we rush to open it back up too quickly putting strain on our healthcare workers and vulnerable populations especially.

We need to continue to pray for all of our leaders, yes even the ones we disagree with, and all those on the frontlines. So many people are struggling right now whether physically, financially, emotionally, etc. We need to be reminded daily from where our true source of strength and hope comes by looking up and fixing our eyes on Christ.

Some updates on the religious freedom front:

However, our Governor has not done a very good job of balancing competing interest during this crisis as illustrated by a recent court opinion.  Many thoughtful legal thinkers and others had already concluded Governor Kelly overstepped with her 11th hour executive order effectively forcing the closure of churches in the days before Easter. And now a federal judge has agreed.

Last week two churches, which had implemented fairly strict social distancing and hygiene requirements, sued in federal court claiming that the Governor’s executive order violated their religious freedom rights. Late Saturday night, Tenth Circuit Judge John Broomes agreed.

He rebuked Governor Kelly for blatantly targeting religion in an executive order banning church gatherings of more than 10 people just days before Easter Sunday and he granted a request for a temporary restraining order for the churches. The temporary restraining order prohibits Governor Kelly from enforcing her order against the two churches involved in the lawsuit. It also requires the churches follow very stringent social distancing requirements any time they meet.

But Governor Kelly is not backing down and has continued to threaten churches with criminal penalties. The Governor is targeting church leaders and asking them to sign on to her agenda after the fact. It appears that the Lt. Gov. has even asked some pastors to sign an affidavit which effectively said they were ok with the Governor taking away their church members’ rights.

Throughout this process, Governor Kelly has shown how little respect she has for the religious beliefs of Kansans. In recent weeks she compared religion to KU basketball saying that she has just as much right and authority to restrict both of them. However, legally she doesn’t. As much as we love KU basketball it is a government funded program and not protected by our U.S. Constitution or any state statute.

The freedom of religion is a God given right, protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution and the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. Just this week, on a national conference call with faith leaders, US Attorney Barr noted that government can’t put special burdens on religious communities. There is a pretty high bar for interfering with this right, especially under our state’s law, as Judge Broomes has eloquently pointed out.

There was another hearing on this matter this Thursday and I anticipate that the judge’s decision will be announced very soon.

This is a threat to religious liberty that every Kansan should take seriously. We commend Attorney General Schmidt, legislative leadership, the attorneys on this case, and Judge Broomes for recognizing that the Governor’s order was, and is, targeting all people of faith and must be stopped. The law is pretty clear on this point.

Not everyone reading this letter will agree with the outcome of the Court’s decision and that’s ok. Just like in any other time, we need to be respectful of those who have different opinions and beliefs. That ability to disagree well is a beautiful gift that we have in United States. Use that gift wisely.

Eyes on Him,

Brittany Jones, Esq
Advocacy Director