Maryville Baptist Church, Inc. v. Beshear, No. 20-5427 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Kentucky Governor Beshear issued a COVID-19 order, prohibiting “[a]ll mass gatherings,” including "community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events.” It excepts “normal operations at airports, bus and train stations, . . . shopping malls and centers,” and “typical office environments, factories, or retail or grocery stores where large numbers of people are present, but maintain appropriate social distancing.” A subsequent order required organizations that are not “life-sustaining” to close. Religious organizations are not “life-sustaining,” except in providing “food, shelter, and social services.” Laundromats, accounting services, law firms, hardware stores, and many other entities count as life-sustaining.
Maryville held a drive-in Easter service. Congregants parked their cars in the church’s parking lot and listened to a sermon over a loudspeaker. State Police issued notices to the congregants that their attendance amounted to a criminal act, recorded congregants’ license plate numbers, and sent letters, requiring them to self-quarantine for 14 days. The Church filed suit, citing its congregants’ rights under Kentucky’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the U.S. Constitution’s free-exercise guarantee.
The Sixth Circuit granted, in part, a request for an injunction. The Church is likely to succeed on its claims, especially with respect to the ban’s application to drive-in services. The treatment of comparable religious and non-religious activities does not suggest the least restrictive way of regulating the churches. The prohibition on attending any worship service inflicts irreparable harm; an injunction appropriately permits religious services with the same risk-minimizing precautions as similar secular activities and enforcement of social-distancing rules. Treatment of similarly situated entities in comparable ways serves public health interests while preserving bedrock free-exercise guarantees.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on October 19, 2020.