LAWRENCE, KS (KCTV) — After a narrow decision by the Kansas Supreme Court prohibiting religious services with more than 10 people, two Kansas churches are now taking action and appealing to a higher power.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court by Junction City’s Calvary Baptist Church and Dodge City’s First Baptist Church states that “the State does not have a compelling reason for prohibiting church services where congregants can otherwise practice adequate social distancing protocol.”
Kansas Governor Laura Kelly responded to the news of the lawsuits during her Friday news conference.
"I am aware there have been one or two lawsuits. I would just continue to reiterate that executive order had nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with protecting health of Kansans," Kelly said.
But the churches and their pastors disagree. They say it violates their constitutional rights to the free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, right to assemble and due process.
Pastor Scott Hanks of Heritage Baptist Church said he thinks the other pastors may have a strong case.
“Honestly, I don’t see how the governor is going to have a leg to stand on,” he told KCTV5 News,
Hanks said earlier this week that he’s willing to risk being arrested to continue having church services. While he is not part of this lawsuit, he agrees with its goals.
“I’m not trying to fight the governor,” Hanks said. “I just don’t want her to tell us we can’t have church.”
The pastor plans to continue to follow through with his service plans, though, with local law enforcement now enforcing the governor’s order, he said he was forced to take services outside.
“If they want to put me in jail and charge those fines, I’d do that in a heartbeat,” Hanks told KCTV5 News. “But I wasn’t willing to do that to the church family because it wasn’t fair to them.”
Hanks said they rented a tent, and for each service they’ll re-set everything up.
“I think the bigger burden of it all is being outside for church when it’s this cool,” he explained. “I feel like it’s a bible thing. Not just a constitutional thing. So that’s where I don’t mind stepping over the limit because I really feel in my heart that God wants to have church.”
Hanks said the church-goers will continue to enforce social distancing underneath the tent by spacing out seating. Only people from the same household will be allowed to sit together.
Kelly’s statewide stay-at-home order is set to remain in effect until May 3.