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The settlement agreement between Gov. Laura Kelly and the two Baptist churches that challenged her executive order limiting religious services to no more than 10 people is well-timed.
The dispute began when the Dodge City and Junction City churches filed a lawsuit on the premise that Kelly’s executive order violated constitutional religious and free speech rights.
Thankfully, the joint motion by both parties suggests the fight is over, ending a distraction to what should be our major focus: beginning the process to restart our economy while ensuring the health and safety of Kansans as the virus continues to move among us.
The agreement involved a 14-day extension of the temporary restraining order against the governor’s mass-gathering rule that was issued on April 18 by U.S. District Judge John Broomes in Wichita, allowing congregations in Dodge City and Junction City to conduct in-person services so long as attendees comply with safety protocols.
It’s a deal that indicates the governor will revise her mass-gathering order to include broader guidelines permitting the gathering of religious organizations in-person.
To the credit of both sides, they have worked together to come to this consensus, a remarkable outcome in a time of overt partisanship and political posturing. “Immediately after the court hearing, counsel for plaintiffs and defendants began engaging in comprehensive, good-faith discussion,” said Tyler Langhofer, one of the plaintiff attorneys.
“While I am confident that we have the law on our side, the agreement with these two churches will allow us to move forward and focus our efforts on mitigating the spread of the disease and working to restart the economy,” Kelly said.
We said from the beginning that none of this needed to happen. The stricter guidelines for churches came after outbreaks were traced back to congregations while some churches continued to encourage in-person services. The actions of a few prompted the stricter limitations on gathering in churches during the pandemic and created a legal dispute between churches, legislative leaders, the attorney general and Gov. Kelly.
Fortunately, there’s been a timely and appropriate resolution. As we look to address the state’s health and economic woes, there’s no benefit to a prolonged court battle. Kansans need solutions for the healthy and safe integration back into day-to-day routines, including church.
Now we can focus on restarting our economy.
Moving into a time where options for gathering in-person will soon be expanded, we can’t forget to follow the advised health and safety protocols that have served us so well the past several weeks. Wash your hands, don’t shake hands, cover your cough and sneeze, wear your mask, and try to limit your outings to only those of necessity.