(CN) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly and two churches who sued her for banning religious services of more than 10 people have struck a deal to halt the lawsuit, she announced Saturday evening.
The churches and their pastors filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month against the governor over her stay-at-home order meant to combat the coronavirus pandemic, saying that it violated their constitutional rights of religious freedom and the right to assembly.
U.S. District Judge John Broomes issued a limited temporary restraining order on the governor’s executive order on April 19 that applied only to the two churches. Broomes wrote in his ruling that the governor’s order targeted religious services while still allowing other mass gatherings, such as in airports and grocery stores.
“The most reasonable inference from this disparate treatment is that the essential function of religious activity was targeted for stricter treatment due to the nature of the activity involved, rather than because such gatherings pose unique health risks that mass gatherings at commercial and other facilities do not, or because the risks at religious gatherings uniquely cannot be adequately mitigated with safety protocols,” Broomes wrote.
Broomes’ order allowed the churches to ignore the 10-person limit and gather in-person until May 2, with the condition that they practice social distancing. Under the new deal, the temporary restraining order would extend to May 16.
“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 in a statement Saturday.
The Calvary Baptist Church in Junction City and the First Baptist Church in Dodge City filed the lawsuit on April 16, days after the governor issued the executive order. Religious freedom advocate group Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the two churches, said they were pleased with the deal, which must still be approved by Broomes.
“This is a victory for the churches whose First Amendment freedoms the governor has repeatedly disrespected throughout this ongoing litigation,” said senior counsel Ryan Tucker.
Kelly is currently working with her administration to slowly reopen the state beginning on May 4. According to the governor’s court filing on Saturday, religious gatherings would not be prohibited as long as safety precautions were taken. The Sunflower State has a total of 3,174 confirmed cases of Covid-19 infections, with 118 deaths.