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Governing public health is an important task, but it is not more important than following the Constitution. If people can practice social distancing and go to Kroger or Home Depot, then they should be allowed to gather in a similar fashion for their weekly religious service. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

“But what of that enduring Constitution in times like these? Does it mean something different because society is desperate for a cure or prescriptions?”

Those are among the opening words of Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove, a federal judge of a federal district court in Kentucky, as he issued a temporary restraining order on behalf of Tabernacle Baptist Church. 

We filed for a TRO in that case because Kentucky’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak had prevented in-person religious gatherings, but did not restrict other secular gatherings like it.  So, while Kentuckians could visit their local grocery store or hardware store, following proper social distancing measures, they could not employ the same social distancing measures and attend in-person religious meetings. 

To that, Judge Tatenhove said, “If social distancing is good enough for Home Depot and Kroger, it is good enough for in-person religious services which, unlike the foregoing, benefit from constitutional protection.”

Certainly, protecting the public health is an important task of governing, but not if it comes at the expense of the Constitution.  As Judge Tatenhove put it, “It would be easy to put [the Constitution] on the shelf in times like this, to be pulled down and dusted off when more convenient.  But that is not our tradition.  Its enduring quality requires that it be respected even when it is hard.”

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

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