State and local governments in Kentucky are working to protect citizens from the coronavirus pandemic, but apparently they are willing to trample the First Amendment rights of their citizens to freely assemble and practice their religion in the process.
On Easter Sunday, about 50 members of the Maryville Baptist Church in Louisville Kentucky gathered at their church which held its holiday service in defiance of state orders, according to the Courier Journal.
They were greeted by troopers from the Kentucky State Police, who recorded license plate numbers and placed notices of mandatory 14-day quarantine orders on attendees’ vehicles, with their names being reported to local health departments.
“Kentucky State Police are at Maryville Baptist Church in Louisville, taking down license plates and placing notices on cars of people inside for today’s service,” tweeted Rose McBride, a journalist for WHAS-TV.
— Rose McBride (@rosemcbridetv) April 12, 2020
Worshippers also had to contend with nails littering the parking lot exits. Although it is not clear where they came from, Jerrica Valtierra of WAVE-TV tweeted photos of nails strewn on the pavement.
“At the Maryville Baptist Church my photog & I spotted theses nails scattered around in the exit lanes. Not sure if someone dropped these intentionally or why they’re there,” Valtierra wrote.
At the Maryville Baptist Church my photog & I spotted theses nails scattered around in the exit lanes. Not sure if someone dropped these intentionally or why they’re there ? pic.twitter.com/ww1o9k0qgQ
— Jerrica Valtierra WAVE3 (@JerrValtNews) April 12, 2020
The row over religious services began on March 19 when Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear formalized a ban on large gatherings, including “faith-based” events. Subsequent orders closed businesses that were deemed “not life-sustaining” while allowing pharmacies, grocery stores, hardware stores, banks, and others to remain open.
Maryville’s pastor, the Rev. Jack Roberts, was determined to hold services even as Beshear upped the ante by issuing the orders for state police to record worshippers’ license plate numbers and place the notices for any congregants who disobeyed.
As tensions mounted and Easter approached, Louisville’s Democratic Mayor Greg Fischer barred religious groups from even holding drive-in services during the week of Passover and Easter, according to the Courier Journal, as it was “not really practical or safe” in their more populated, urban community.
According to Kentucky Today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, urged Fischer in a letter to allow for the drive-in services in a letter. However, that letter was simply ignored despite the fact that drive-in services would be a reasonable and safe compromise.
To his credit, though, it should be noted that Fischer did condemn the nails in the parking lot as an act of vandalism, according to the Courier Journal.
The news of Roberts’ service being targeted was shared by Republican Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky’s junior senator.
“Taking license plates at church?” Paul asked rhetorically in his tweet about the incident with an accompanying account. “Quarantining someone for being Christian on Easter Sunday? Someone needs to take a step back here.”
Taking license plates at church? Quarantining someone for being Christian on Easter Sunday? Someone needs to take a step back here.
Kentucky Governor Announces Plan to Record License Plates of Easter Church Goers and Force Them to Quarantine for 14 Days https://t.co/z7U42liQRh
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) April 11, 2020
The outrage is justified. While the coronavirus is a serious threat, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution specifically guarantees the right to freely assemble as well as practice religion.
There is something tyrannical and perhaps even diabolical about choosing a church parking lot as a place to have governments make their stand against “social distancing” violators.
Surely there are also shoppers at grocery stores who don’t follow the letter of the law as they shop for comfort food, or customers who make a run to a hardware store for a nonessential home improvement project.
Furthermore, a strong case can be made for the need to hear the word of God in troubled times, and few times are more troubled than when a potentially fatal virus is stalking the country.
The safety and health of citizens during the pandemic is no small matter for sure, but how those restrictions are enforced cannot unfairly target religious activities.
It may be dangerous to the body to ignore quarantine orders, but it is equally dangerous to liberty for the government to use force or the threat of force to stop Christians from worshipping God as they see fit.
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