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Drive-in church ban violates religious freedom, Mitch McConnell says

In letter to Louisville mayor, Senate majority leader insists that drive-in churches do not violate CDC guidelines

Christians should be allowed to celebrate Easter at Louisville drive-in churches as long as they comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a letter to the city’s mayor, Greg Fischer.

The spat over religious gatherings in Kentucky has become a major sticking point between Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and some local pastors who kept churches open and ignored state orders banning mass gatherings. McConnell said he does not support meetings of churches that defy the CDC guidelines but believes gatherings of people in vehicles do not violate those rules.

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If the government allows vehicles to gather in parking lots for purposes like grocery shopping, it shouldn’t prohibit them from gathering for Easter services, McConnell reasoned.

“It raises the specter that the government is singling religious people out for disfavored treatment,” McConnell said in the letter.

Louisville area pastor Jack Roberts defied a government enforcement notice and public calls from Beshear to practice social distancing by holding an in-person service Wednesday as Kentucky State Police kept watch in the parking lot, Louisville station WDRB reported. Roberts vowed to hold an Easter Sunday service and told parishioners he was willing to risk arrest to do it.

The CDC recommends that Americans listen to and follow the direction of state and local authorities, do not gather in groups of 10 or more people and avoid any discretionary travel.

Vice President Mike Pence discouraged people across the country from celebrating the Easter holiday in church pews at the Friday White House coronavirus briefing. The vice president advised parishioners to continue following restrictions on gatherings.

“Continue to heed the guidelines,” Pence said.

As of Thursday afternoon, 79 people in Kentucky had died from the COVID-19 illness caused by the coronavirus. McConnell said he believes religious organizations share responsibility to follow CDC guidance on mitigating the spread of the coronavirus and he supports temporary government regulations consistent with the guidance.

“The reports of churches meeting in open defiance of CDC guidelines and thereby contributing to the spread of the disease are troubling and disheartening,” McConnell said.

But, in the case of drive-in religious ceremonies that adhere to CDC guidelines, the government should make exceptions and allow them, he wrote.

“During Easter and Passover, the government should not flatly prohibit religious gatherings that comply with CDC guidelines unless it has no other choice to stop COVID-19,” McConnell wrote, adding, “I believe the government has means to stop the spread of COVID-19 short of a flat ban on gatherings of people in vehicles for religious purposes.”

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