Walker’s order prevents the city from “enforcing; attempting to enforce; threatening to enforce; or otherwise requiring compliance with any prohibition on drive-in church services at On Fire” Christian Church, according to court documents.
On Tuesday, Fischer said that he was strongly suggesting that churches not host in-person or drive-in services Easter weekend. He urged faith leaders not to hold in-person or drive-in services because he wanted to keep them and the city safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Louisville’s On Fire church sued Fischer and the city Friday, arguing that the mayor’s suggestion against holding drive-in services violated the congregation’s constitutional rights. In the lawsuit, the church argues that “gathering on Easter is critical."
“We will continue to follow the CDC guidelines, and plan to have a great drive-in service on Sunday,” On Fire wrote in a Facebook post Saturday. “As we have from the beginning, we will continue to work with the mayor and the city to keep everyone safe and well. God bless.”
In response to Walker’s order Saturday, Fischer said in a statement that officials are still reviewing the ruling but were “disappointed the Court entered an order without giving the city an opportunity to explain our position and outline some of the discrepancies in the complaint.”
Fischer reiterated that he did not issue a “formal ban” on drive-in religious services, but “in the end, this ruling doesn’t change our message: It is not safe for people to attend in-person or drive-in services.” As of Saturday, Louisville had 536 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 40 deaths, according to Fischer.
“The science on COVID-19 is clear — the virus wants to spread to as many people as possible, and it kills,” Fischer said in his statement. “I have urged faith leaders not to hold in-person or drive-in services because I want to keep them and our city safe from this virus. The more disciplined we are now, the more lives we save, and the sooner we can come out of our houses and safely gather to worship together again.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tweeted Saturday that he was “grateful for this strong, eloquent ruling defending Kentuckians’ religious liberty from Judge Justin Walker. … Of course church parking lots cannot be singled out with unfair standards that differ from other establishments.”
On Friday, McConnell said prohibiting churches from holding drive-in services infringed on their right to exercise their religion. He said it was unfair that people are still permitted to gather in parking lots to go to grocery stores and other retail operations.
Walker, 37, who clerked for now-retired Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh when Kavanaugh was on the D.C. Circuit, was just nominated to the D.C. Circuit in early April. He is the youngest nominee to that court since 1983.
Walker’s order comes after Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) urged churchgoers Friday to not attend Easter Sunday services in any fashion — and said those who go to mass gatherings will be ordered to self-quarantine in their home for 14 days.
Beshear praised his state for its social distancing efforts in recent weeks and said the vast majority of churches had canceled services. But he also reminded people that the virus spreads even more severely in crowds. He also said Kentucky will record license plates at large gatherings this weekend to follow up about the quarantines.