Federal Court Halts Gov. Beshear’s ban on mass gatherings at Kentucky churches

U.S District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove, a George W. Bush appointee halted the Kentucky governor Andy Beshear’s temporary ban on mass gatherings from applying to in-person religious services, clearing the way for Sunday church services.

Politico reports a federal court halted the Kentucky governor’s temporary ban on mass gatherings from applying to in-person religious services, clearing the way for Sunday church services.

U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove on Friday issued a temporary restraining order enjoining Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration from enforcing the ban on mass gatherings at “any in-person religious service which adheres to applicable social distancing and hygiene guidelines.”

The ruling from the Eastern District of Kentucky sided with the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Nicholasville, but applies to all places of worship around the commonwealth. Two other federal judges, including U.S. District Judge David Hale, had previously ruled the ban was constitutional. But also on Friday, Hale, of Kentucky’s western district, granted Maryville Baptist Church an injunction allowing in-person services at that specific church, provided it abide by public health requirements.

Exceptions to the Democratic governor’s shutdown order include trips to the grocery store, bank, pharmacy and hardware store. Beshear had previously announced that places of worship in Kentucky will be able to once again hold in-person services starting May 20, as part of a broader plan to gradually reopen the state’s economy. Earlier Friday, he outlined requirements for places of worship to reopen, including limiting attendance at in-person services to 33% of building occupancy capacity and maintaining 6 feet of distance between household units.

Beshear acknowledged the court order at a Saturday news conference, saying that his safety guidelines for places of worship would now go into effect immediately. He urged churches to follow the requirements if they choose to hold services or postpone gatherings if they cannot.

“What I’d ask is that people take your time,” he said. “You don’t want your house of worship to be a place where the coronavirus is spread.”