Ever since Gov. Andy Beshear announced a state of emergency in Kentucky on March 6 and local TV news began covering his nightly press conferences, the Commonwealth has been unusually nonpartisan if not downright politically purple.
But, all of that came to an end in the lead up to Easter, when the battle over social distancing became a Holy war, and public health guidelines became a violation of the First Amendment.
Who is right and who is wrong in this battle between church, state and public health?
It’s most important to say that the person who is most wrong is Pastor Jack Roberts of the Maryville Baptist Church in Bullitt County. He defied the state’s ban on gatherings and held in-person Easter Sunday services. He had been warned that doing so would lead to a 14-day, forced self-quarantine, and when he received notice of the order on Monday, he told The Courier Journal he will refuse to quarantine.
Roberts is wrong morally, spiritually and intellectually. He’s selfish and, frankly, he’s arguably evil. He can risk his own life, but his action jeopardizes the lives of his congregants and others in his community. Now, he might be risking the lives of the state troopers who will be assigned to force his two-week quarantine.
Before you think this is just another anti-religion, Godless-liberal rant…
Democratic Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer was wrong to discourage drive-up religious services — on Easter Sunday or any other holy day.
Now, I know Fischer wasn’t pushing anti-religion. He is just trying to do the best he can to save lives and give proper guidance — and he deserves a little leeway since his immediate family is among the COVID-19 survivors.
But, as Fischer pointed out last week, “This is known as the Super Bowl of religious weeks.” With Easter last Sunday, Passover beginning last Thursday and Ramadan coming up, the yearning for religious services was likely to increase. “If we allowed this in Louisville, we’d have hundreds of thousands of people driving around the city Sunday, and, boy, the virus would just love that,” Fischer said.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends social distancing and staying at home as much as possible. Fischer said he was “emphatically asking” the On Fire Christian Church to not hold its drive-in service. He had seen the photos of the previous service showing that social distancing was not happening.
But critics of Fischer pointed out, drive-in church services comply with policies that also allow liquor and hardware stores to remain open. They are right. Grocery stores, liquor stores, hardware stores, drive-thru restaurants and food delivery services are still operating.
He has to treat churches the same as he treats other establishments. He cannot prejudge.
This is where Republicans are just wrong.
Of course, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell was waiting to capitalize on a Democratic misstep. McConnell sent Fischer a letter saying, “It is my understanding that you are prohibiting Christian churches from holding drive-in services in church parking lots for Easter Sunday … ”
McConnell is wrong. Fischer did not ban drive-in services.
Then came the lawsuit against Fischer, which was assigned to none other than McConnell’s favorite up-and-coming judge, Justin Walker, who was appointed as a U.S. District Judge in October and was recently nominated to the U.S. Circuit of Appeals.
Walker, who was still in law school when Fischer was first elected mayor, may have reached the right legal decision to issue a temporary restraining order against Fischer and the city of Louisville. However, Walker is wrong in so many ways.
Walker wrote, “On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter.” No order banning drive-in services was ever signed, and no legal enforcement directives ever issued.
He could have asked Fischer, but the mayor said: “I regret that the judge did not allow us to present evidence that would have demonstrated there has been no legal enforcement mechanism communicated.”
So, who was the winner in all of this? The virus. While we puny, whiny humans prattle and fight, the virus marches on. •