Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, penned a “scathing letter” to the mayor of Louisville, Ky., after he said he would ban churches in the city from holding drive-in services on Easter, a lawyer representing one church told the “Todd Starnes Radio Show” on Friday.
Greg Fischer, the Democrat mayor, has insisted that allowing these services would put more lives at risk for coronavirus and has clashed with religious leaders who insist that he is unfairly targeting their institutions.
McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, wrote to Fischer that he is right to take steps to protect the people of his city during the pandemic, but wrote that it is “important that we continue to respect and protect the constitutional rights of our citizens.”
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McConnell called out the mayor and said that, to his understanding, the city has not banned similar gatherings in vehicles “for commercial purposes—including large, heavily trafficked retail operations and grocery stores.”
Jeremy Dys, from the First Liberty Institute, told Todd Starnes, the host of the radio show, that McConnell’s letter was “scathing.” He said the people of the U.S. are willing to put up with restrictions that are intended to keep us safe, but will not allow “rogue” mayors and other officials to use the pandemic as an escape clause for the Constitution.
“My hope is that all of these situations will resolve immediately and the good people of the United States can get back to their everyday lives,” Dys said.
Fischer told the Courier-Journal that banning these gatherings was not an easy decision. He said he understands it is “a big sacrifice for people of faith.”
“This coronavirus does not care about traditions. It does not care about faith,” he said.
The paper pointed out that Fischer’s decision was supported by Gov. Andy Beshear, who said earlier this week that it is not the time to put “large numbers of people in the same space” and it would just “create a tinder box for the virus.”
Kentucky is not the only state where local officials and religious leaders are at odds over these drive-in services. Police officers in Greenville, Miss., were criticized for issuing fines to about 25 people who showed up in a church parking lot to listen to a sermon on a low-frequency radio signal.
These churchgoers say that efforts to break up these services are hypocritical at best. They insist that they are respecting the “safe space” guidelines and are even inside their cars, and in many cases have their windows raised.
McConnell pointed to the Supreme Court has “repeatedly made clear” that the First Amendment prohibits the government from singling out people and businesses for disfavorable treatment merely because they are religious.” He said the state also has a law that prohibits the government from “limiting the free exercise of religion.”
“When the government permits people in vehicles to gather in parking lots for secular purposes but prohibits them from doing so for religious purposes, it raises the specter that the government is singling religious people out for disfavored treatment,” McConnell wrote.