Missouri Christian Church Wins Settlement Over COVID Worship Restrictions | Catholic National Register

The church argued that the rules violated both the First Amendment and the Missouri Constitution.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A Kansas City-area Baptist mega-church has reached a $ 150,000 deal with the county over coronavirus restrictions, with the church saying the county has treated them harsher than the secular institutions regarding COVID protocols.

Abundant Life Baptist Church, which has locations in Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs, Missouri, filed a lawsuit against Jackson County over a year ago, arguing, like places of worship in other states, that the county’s coronavirus restrictions treated places of worship more harshly than secular institutions such as retail stores.

Under the settlement, Jackson County pledged that in return for the church dropping the lawsuit, it would ensure that future enforcement measures would not place stricter requirements on religious organizations than their counterparts. secular, the Christian message reported.

Jackson is one of the largest counties in Missouri in terms of population, and Abundant Life says some 4,500 people typically attend their services.

When the church filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western Missouri District in May 2020, county coronavirus restrictions limited church services to no more than 10 people, while shops, restaurants, and bars had no numerical limitations, but rather a percentage-based limits, typically 10-25% of capacity.

The church argued that the rules violated both the First Amendment and the Missouri Constitution.

“If Abundant Life went into retail, or served food and alcoholic beverages as a bar, rather than religious worship at its Lee’s Summit location, Jackson County’s Phase I plan would allow 474 people in the building both while meeting or exceeding CDC guidelines, ”the lawsuit says.

Dan Tarwater, one of six county lawmakers who approved the settlement with the church, told the Kansas City Star they thought they “were going to lose” the case unless they approved the settlement. regulation. Equal halves of the settlement will be paid by the county and by University Health, formerly known as Truman Medical Centers, which operates the county health department.

The Supreme Court ruled in late November 2020 that New York State’s restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic violated the First Amendment protection of free religious exercise. After the ruling, the Bishop of Brooklyn, whose diocese was a claimant in the lawsuit, said religious worship should be considered a critical component during the coronavirus pandemic.

State restrictions at the time prohibited the participation of more than 10 people in religious services in state-designated “red zones” and 25 people in “orange zones”.

“Not only is there no evidence that the candidates contributed to the spread of COVID-19, there are many other less restrictive rules that could be adopted to minimize the risks to those attending church services. Among other things, the maximum attendance at a religious service could be related to the size of the church or synagogue, ”the court wrote.

… Even in the event of a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put aside and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively banning many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom, ”the ruling concluded.

In February 2021, an unsigned U.S. Supreme Court order ruled that the outright ban on indoor worship, which was in effect across much of California at the time, was unconstitutional. At the most, the state can limit indoor capacity to 25% of normal, the court said, citing its November decision in the Brooklyn case.

The Archdiocese of Washington DC appealed to a district judge in late 2020 over rules limiting places of worship to 25% of capacity, up to a maximum of 250 people indoors, regardless of capacity official. This included the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest church in North America, which has a total capacity of around 6,000 people for its upper church.

A subsequent court order from March 2021 allowed DC’s places of worship to admit as many people as possible inside, in accordance with other public health regulations such as social distancing.

In April 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that California’s coronavirus restrictions on home religious gatherings like Bible studies, worship and prayer meetings were stricter than the constitution allows. Citing an appeals court ruling in another case, the unsigned majority order said the state cannot “imagine the worst when people go to worship, but assume the best when people go to worship. at work “.

The majority of the court found that comparable secular activities treated “more favorably than home religious exercises” under California rules included private suites at sporting events and concerts as well as indoor restaurants, where more than three households were allowed to meet.

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