Gov. Laura Kelly takes executive order on limiting church gatherings to Kansas Supreme Court

Published: Apr. 9, 2020 at 4:00 PM CDT
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Gov. Laura Kelly announced that a lawsuit had been filed against the legislative coordinating council in regarding an executive order limiting church gatherings and funerals to 10 people or less.

The council voted Wednesday, 5-2, to overturn E.O. 20-18. Lawmakers and the state’s top prosecutor said it likely violates the state constitution.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said that while the order was “sound public-health advice that Kansans should follow,” he was discouraging law enforcement agencies and prosecutors statewide from attempting to enforce the requirements. The push back came with the question of constitutionality.

Kelly said the suit had been filed with the Kansas Supreme Court to determine if the council has the ability to overturn executive orders. She said the vote by the LCC runs in conflict with both the Kansas constitution and Kansas State statute, stating that this measure must be done by the legislature as a whole, not just the smaller body of lawmakers.

"This is not a normal disagreement about policy or politics," said the governor. "We do not have time to play political games during a pandemic."

The governor said Wednesday's move by the LCC caused confusion among county emergency managers who called then called the Kansas Department of Emergency Management for clarification.

The governor said further confusion is whether the vote might of have rescinded executive order 20-14, an earlier order limiting mass gatherings.

Kelly said she hopes the supreme court will rule on the lawsuit soon, and she continues to encourage Kansans to stay at home as the coronavirus pandemic continues and cases statewide increase.

Vice President Mike Pence is among those in support of statewide gathering limitations, including religious gatherings, Kelly says.

Eyewitness News Thursday spoke with church leaders from across the state, representing big and small churches and different faiths. Not one said they planned to host in-person services on Easter Sunday and most had little to no concern with the governor's most recent order.

Father Pat York with the Catholic Diocese of Wichita says the church had already made its decision not to hold public mass, the back and forth between the governor and lawmakers aside.

"It's confusing to the people, honestly," Fr. York says. "My humble opinion is they need to get it figured out. However, we are very careful about wanting to not spread this disease. So to help stem the spread of the disease, bishop has asked us to suspend masses until everything is free and clear."

Pastor Tim Doremus at Wichita's Life Church East shares a similar sentiment, not feeling churches are singled out or targeted in any way.

"I mean, it's a challenging situation," Doremus says. "No one has been in this scenario before, so we realize everyone is trying to do what they think is best and we completely recognize that."

While church leaders said they don't feel the governor overstepped church and sate with the executive order limiting group sizes, they agree this is something to be mindful of.

"We have to be very careful about our constitutional rights so that we can come together and we can worship," Fr. York says. "We don't want that trampled on by any stretch of the imagination, so therefore, let the governor and the legislature work this out for what's better for the people of the state."

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