Judge grants temporary restraining order permitting two Kansas churches to hold religious services in excess of 10 people so long as the churches implement certain protective measures.

On April 18, 2020, a United States District Court Judge for the District of Kansas, The Honorable Judge John W. Broomes, granted a request for a temporary restraining order filed by First Baptist Church of Dodge City, Kansas and Calvary Baptist Church of Junction City, Kansas against Governor Laura Kelly in which the two churches sought to prevent Governor Kelly from prohibiting their religious gatherings of more than 10 people in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  See Executive Order No. 20-18. The Court ruled that First Baptist Church of Dodge City, Kansas and Calvary Baptist Church of Junction City, Kansas could have religious gatherings of more than 10 people subject to certain limitations. The Court found in part that in the state-imposed restrictions under Executive Order No. 20-18 on religious exercises were not narrowly tailored enough to further a compelling governmental interest in halting the spread of COVID-19, and that the restrictions on religious activities were more severe than restrictions on some comparable non-religious activities.

Judge Broomes order only applies to the First Baptist Church of Dodge City, Kansas and Calvary Baptist Church of Junction City, Kansas. Additionally, Judge Broomes order requires that the two churches implement numerous other protective measures in order to conduct religious services in excess of 10 individuals.  The following protocols must be followed in order for services in excess of 10 people to occur:

First Baptist Church of Dodge City protocols:

  • Prior to and following the in-person service, the facility will be deep-cleaned;
  • Invitations will be directed to regular church attendees for this in-person service;
  • Individuals will be advised to continue to engage in “stay at home” protocols as directed by EO 20-16 in order to attend the service;
  • No church members are known to have had any contact with known COVID-19 confirmed cases;
  • Attendees will be advised to perform temperature checks at home on all attendees prior to attending the service. Individuals that are ill or have fevers will not attend;
  • High-risk individuals will be advised not to attend the in-person service;
  • Attendees will be advised to bring their own PPE, including masks and gloves;
  • Attendees will be advised not to engage in hand shaking or other physical contact;
  • Hand sanitizer will be available for use throughout the facility;
  • The in-person service will be limited to 50 individuals in a space that has acapacity for 300 individuals (a cross-shaped auditorium 50 feet by 74 feet at the center; 2,950 square feet total, allowing almost 57 square feet available to each attendee at maximum social distancing);
  • Co-habitating family units may sit closer together but otherwise the maximum social distancing possible will be used, however, at a minimum, the CDC recommended protocol will be observed with a minimum distance of at least 6 feet;
  • A single point of entry and single point of exit on opposite sides of the building will be used, establishing a one-way traffic pattern to ensure social distancing;
  • Ventilation will be increased as much as possible, opening windows and doors, as weather permits;
  • These procedures will be communicated to church members in advance of the service;
  • Church bulletin and offering plates will not be used during the service;
  • Attendees will be advised to wash their clothes following the service;
  • If Church leadership becomes aware of a clear, immediate, and immanent threat to the safety of the attendees or cannot follow the protocols listed above, the gathering will be immediately disbanded.

Calvary Baptist Church of Junction City protocols:

  • Splitting out pews and marking designated sitting areas to keep non-cohabitating congregants at least six feet apart before, during, and after the worship service;
  • Marking multiple entrances to encourage socially distanced foot traffic;
  • Propping doors open to prevent the need for congregants to touch doors while entering and exiting the church or sanctuary;
  • Suspending passing offering plates and bulletins;
  • Actively discouraging handshaking or social touching;
  • Offering hand sanitizer throughout the building;
  • Providing face masks to offer to any interested persons.

This case has not been fully litigated and continues to move through the legal process. The next court appearance is for a preliminary injunction hearing on April 23, 2020.