Easter battle: US governor sues lawmakers after ban on religious gatherings overturned

'There are real life consequences to the partisan games Republicans played today'

Graig Graziosi
Friday 10 April 2020 21:05 BST
Reporter asks Pence if he will be attending church during coronavirus lockdown

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Louise Thomas

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Republican lawmakers in Kansas have revoked an order by the Democratic Governor that limits the size of church gatherings ahead of Easter Sunday.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly issued an order limiting religious gatherings to 10 people, according to The Wichita Eagle.

The vote in the state's combined legislative assembly - the Legislative Coordinating Council - was split along party lines, with Democrats supporting the governor and Republicans voting to toss out the order. Ultimately, the Republicans won.

Ms Kelly called the decision on behalf of the legislators "shockingly irresponsible" and said it would likely cost some individuals their lives.

"There are real life consequences to the partisan games Republicans played today," Ms Kelly said.

Ms Kelly is suing the lawmakers to have the repeal overturned. Fox News reported that her attorneys have requested an expedited hearing by the state's Supreme Court to rule on the challenge.

"The last thing I want right now is a legal battle," she said. "But as I said yesterday, lives are on the line and I took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution."

Republicans voting to repeal the measure said they did so on behalf of religious liberty, characterising the ban as state overreach limiting the religious freedoms of Kansans.

Susan Wagle, the state's Senate president and a Republican, called the ban an overreach and a "blatant violation of our fundamental rights."

"I think they were just very upset with the fact that the government was going to tell them that they couldn't practice their religion," Ms Wagle said.

When The Wichita Eagle reporters pressed her, asking if she was concerned that revoking the order might cause people to die, she seemed to brush off the idea that the order would have changed anyone's behaviours, suggesting people were aware of the virus's dangers, "but don't tell us we can't practice our religious freedoms."

A Republican congressional candidate, Adrienne Vallejo Foster, called for sheriffs across the state to ignore the order and encouraged churches to meet while practicing social distancing.

The state's Attorney General, Derek Schmidt, said the order would likely be ruled unconstitutional if challenged in court and urged police not to enforce it. He simultaneously argued that Kansans should follow the order but also advised police not to give out misdemeanour citations to those breaking it, a move which the governor called "nonsensical."

Kansas House GOP leaders said they agreed with the governor's desire to see people stay home, but that they disagreed that individuals should be arrested if they chose to meet for church services, and said the governor should seek "safe and legal" solutions to the issue.

More than a dozen coronavirus cases in Kansas — and at least one death — are tied to a church conference that was held in Wyandotte County, according to state officials.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment identified at least 15 cases stemming from the Kansas East Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction's Ministers and Workers Conference, which was held 16-22 March.

Of the 15 cases, six people have been hospitalised.

Kansas is one of 44 states whose governors have enacted measures meant to limit church gatherings

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