Claiming executive overreach, Kansas Republicans overturned Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order Tuesday evening prohibiting churches and funeral homes from hosting gatherings of 10 or more due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate President Susan Wagle said the governor’s order restricts people’s “individual rights to practice religious liberties,” while Majority Leader Jim Denning said it “criminalizes religious gatherings.”
Protecting the public from the pandemic has never been at the expense of our religious freedoms and no one knows this better than our clergy.
This is nothing but Republicans trying to paint a Democratic governor as heavy-handed.
Wagle and Denning were two of five Republicans on the Legislative Coordinating Council that voted 5-2 to overturn Kelly’s order.
That the Governor’s mandate comes during Holy Week “brings me the greatest sadness,” she said, recognizing the significance of Easter.
On Wednesday, Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the state’s expert on the coronavirus, was livid with the GOP’s maneuver.
“Whatever Kansas legislators do doesn’t reverse what the public needs to do,” he said. “Stay home so we can beat this scourge.”
Even religious leaders balked at the Republicans’ callous attitude to public health when they rolled back the self-quarantine mandate.
“I encourage you all to obey the mandate,” said the Rev. C.L. Bachus, of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kan. “It’s time we use good common sense as well as exercise our faith during this difficult time. We are all in this together.”
Pastor Bob Becker of Wichita’s Central Community Church said he advised his congregation of 7,000 to stay at home for the safety of their health.
“We’re trying to lead by example. I know if I opened the doors there are people who would come because that’s their habit and I don’t want to put them in that predicament.”
Kelly felt compelled to specifically include churches when evidence tracked three of the state’s 12 clusters of infections to church gatherings, including a March 16-22 ministers’ conference in Wyandotte County.
It’s still unclear whether the Republicans’ decision eliminates the March 24 statewide order for all but essential businesses to close their doors.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt seems to think the original mandate remains, but county leaders are saying otherwise with many reinstating individual mandates, creating a patchwork of varying restrictions across the state.
KANSAS is recording scores of new cases every day. By Friday afternoon, it had 1,166 confirmed cases and 50 deaths. If the peak is still two weeks out, we’re on a trajectory to top 3,000, a number that will greatly strain our resources.
By allowing church services and other larger gatherings to return to normal now sends the message that everything is OK.
That’s irresponsible governance.
LATE THURSDAY, Gov. Kelly asked the Kansas Supreme Court to overturn the panel’s decision.
“I will not stand by when lives are in jeopardy, and I will not allow the rule of law or the constitution to be trampled on during an emergency,” she said.
Kelly specifically is questioning the authority of the seven-member panel to overrule her executive decision. The Republican-heavy panel was appointed only this year by the Republican-heavy legislature for the very purpose of exercising strict oversight over the governor.
Kelly has asked the high court to expedite the case with hopes of a ruling before Easter Sunday.
IT’S AT TIMES like this that Kansans can be proud they have a governor who stands up for us everyday people who are powerless against leaders playing some sick game, with lives hanging in the balance.
Thank you Governor, and Happy Easter.
— Susan Lynn