Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is suing a legislative council to halt Republican lawmakers from overturning her executive order limiting church gatherings.
The Legislative Coordinating Council, a group of seven lawmakers, voted along party lines on Wednesday to overturn Kelly’s order, citing a breach of freedom of religion.
“The Governor should not use this crisis, or any other crisis, as a basis to restrict our Constitutional rights. My church has canceled Mass at the advice of health experts; the same advice most Kansans are now following,” Senate President Susan Wagle said. “However, they did it with free will, not a mandate by big brother infringing on the individual freedoms given to us by our Bill of Rights.”
Three of the state’s 11 coronavirus clusters have come from church gatherings, the Wichita Eagle reported, which is what led Kelly to issue the order on Tuesday, making religious gatherings adhere to the ban on mass gatherings of more than 10 people.
Kelly is seeking a ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court, and her attorneys are requesting that the justices declare the resolution unconstitutional and void the decision made to overturn Kelly’s order. They are also requesting a quick decision be made to have the situation resolved prior to Easter Sunday, April 12.
“The last thing I want right now is a legal battle,” Kelly said at a news conference. “But as I said yesterday, Kansas lives are on the line and I took an oath to uphold and defend the constitution.”
Kelly also urged Kansans to stay home during the holidays to protect them from COVID-19 via Twitter.
“I've spoken with faith leaders from across the state, and they agree - it's critical for Kansans to maintain proper social distancing, including during religious gatherings. As difficult as this is, we all must do our part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Kelly tweeted.
I've spoken with faith leaders from across the state, and they agree - it's critical for Kansans to maintain proper social distancing, including during religious gatherings. As difficult as this is, we all must do our part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. #StayHome #SaveLives— Governor Laura Kelly (@GovLauraKelly) April 9, 2020
Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, expressed his discontent with the legislature's decision to overturn Kelly’s order on Twitter.
“Nothing fun, nothing fancy. Whatever Kansas legislators do doesn’t reverse what The Public needs to do. Stay home so we can beat this scourge. Despite what the 'leaders' of the Legislature say. We are so close, and they are doing politics. Don’t fall for it! I am SO angry! Shame,” Norman tweeted.
Nothing fun, nothing fancy. Whatever Kansas legislators do doesn’t reverse what The Public needs to do. Stay home so we can beat this scourge. Despite what the “leaders” of the Legislature say. We are so close, and they are doing politics. Don’t fall for it! I am SO angry! Shame!— Lee Norman (@SecNorman) April 9, 2020
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s opinion fell in line with that of the Republican lawmakers, supporting the governor for advising Kansans to stay home during Passover and Easter, but not supporting an executive order forcing them to do so.
“The governor’s new executive order restricting in-person religious gatherings as a COVID-19 countermeasure is sound public-health advice that Kansans should follow, but the order likely violates state constitutional and statutory protections for religious freedom and must not be enforced by arrest, prosecution, fines or imprisonment for worshiping,” Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a statement.
The order put in place by Kelly would allow Kansans who do not abide by the ban on mass gatherings to be arrested for a misdemeanor.
With Easter just days away, and Passover already underway, the Kansas Supreme Court will be tasked with deciding whether Kansans can be legally prohibited to attend religious services.