Lawmakers reverse Gov. Kelly’s executive order limiting religious gatherings, funerals

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – The Legislative Coordinating Council on Wednesday reversed an executive order issued by Gov. Laura Kelly limiting religious gatherings and funerals.

The executive order was issued Tuesday after Gov. Kelly said multiple coronavirus cases in Kansas are tied to religious gatherings. It went into effect on Wednesday.

Republican lawmakers on the council said on Wednesday this executive order goes too far in singling out one entity and limiting the free exercise of religion. They added that there isn’t any current data to indicate the need for this level of prohibition.

The council consists of five Republicans and two Democrats.

Lawmakers that supported revoking the order said Kansans are already adapting the way they worship.

“Most of them are already planning to stay home and pray together and watch services online, they just felt like it was a violation of their constitutional rights to have the government tell them that they cannot participate in a church service,” Senate President Susan Wagle said.

“It wasn’t that they wanted to attend a service and be around a bunch of people, what they don’t want is government telling them that they can’t practice their religious freedoms and their religious rights,” Wagle continued.

Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman chairs the council. He joined Wagle and other Republicans in voting to strip the executive order.

“Faith leaders accept a tremendous responsibility to look out for those who look to them for guidance,” said Ryckman. “In these uncertain times we need to grant these leaders the flexibility to serve their congregation while also trusting them not to do anything that would put their congregation at risk. No evidence has been shown to indicate that faith leaders are violating that trust.”

Democrats on the council said the vote was political and potentially dangerous.

“I think the LCC has made a big mistake today. Unfortunately even if it’s just one large gathering happens because the ban on 10 or more is gone, that could cause more people to die, and that’s unfortunate,” House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer said.

“I think it’s important that we stop mass gatherings, we just stick it out a little longer and get through this,” Sawyer said.

Lawmakers recently passed a law that requires the council to approve or revoke Kelly’s executive orders.

In a news conference Wednesday, Kelly said this was a “shockingly irresponsible decision.” She said she’s directing her chief counsel to explore their legal options to “resolve this confusion.”

Kansas Interfaith Action sent the following statement to KSNT News.

Today on a partisan vote the Legislative Coordinating Council voted to overturn Gov. Kelly’s executive order (EO) including congregations in the 10-person limit for public gatherings. KIFA condemns this action and urges congregations throughout the state to maintain the 10-person limit and strict social districting during worship this weekend.

Most congregations associated with KIFA have been meeting on-line for several weeks already. We believe that this is the most sensible course of action to take in the face of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Many of our clergy supporters contacted the LCC members in support of the governor’s EO.

Republicans in the state legislature have been uncomfortable with Gov. Kelly’s leadership, and we believe today’s action is an unfortunate politicizing of a difficult situation. As faith leaders of course we place a high value on our religious freedom, but we believe that a) no one is limiting our right to worship, only to gather publicly, and b) the pandemic is an extenuating circumstance that calls us to accept temporary limitations on public worship that would be unacceptable in normal circumstances. But these are not normal circumstances.

In Jewish tradition pikuah nefesh, saving a life, is of the utmost importance. Almost every mitzvah (mandated religious observance), no matter how important, is secondary to it. With the cooperation of all of us, this pandemic will abate, and we’ll be able to celebrate many more Easters and Passovers together in our extended communities. But as the Psalmist says, “The dead cannot praise the Lord.”

Kansas Interfaith Action is a statewide, faith-based issue advocacy organization that puts faith into action on a variety of social, economic, and climate justice issues. We are the state public policy office of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and a strategic partner of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference of the United Church of Christ.

Kansas Interfaith Action

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