Judge Says Louisville Mayor’s Attempt to Prohibit Drive-in Church Services is Unconstitutional, Something the Judge Did Not Expect to See Outside of a Dystopian Novel

Posted 5 months ago — Ooley Law Blog

Although we assume most politicians and government officials believe they are doing the right thing when it comes to the purported health crisis we are facing, we are very concerned about the bias most government officials have in their view of the world that the exercise of draconian government power and control is an appropriate solution to allegedly provide for the safety of the public at large. It is also concerning that many citizens concur with such authoritative or dictatorial trends. There seems to be a lack of critical thinking by many citizens with respect to decisions made by government officials claiming to keep society “safe.”

We have taken oaths to support and defend the state and US Constitutions, and believe the role of government under those Constitutions is to keep us free and protect rights, not keep individuals “safe.” The responsibility to keep individuals “safe” rests generally with the individual and family. In any event, for those of us who believe in the notion that dangerous liberty is preferable to peaceful slavery, it was reassuring to read an opinion from Judge Walker of the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky that accompanied a Temporary Restraining Order issued by Judge Walker that stopped the City of Louisville from enforcing or attempting to enforce, or threatening to enforce a prohibition of drive-in church services in the City of Louisville. Although the entire opinion from Judge Walker is attached for review, here are a few excerpts from the opinion:

On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter. That sentence is one that this Court never expected to see outside the pages of a dystopian novel, or perhaps the pages of The Onion. But two days ago, citing the need for social distancing during the current pandemic, Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fischer ordered Christians not to attend Sunday services, even if they remained in their cars to worship – and even though it’s Easter. The Mayor’s decision is stunning. And it is, “beyond all reason,” unconstitutional…

The Plymouth Colony’s second Governor, William Bradford, alluded to St. Paul’s pilgrims when he recalled, years later, his fellow colonists’ departure from England. The land they were leaving was comfortable and familiar. The ocean before them was, for them, unknown and dangerous. So too was the New World, where half would not survive the first winter. There were “mutual embraces and many tears,” as they said farewell to sons, daughters, mothers, and they needed most: the liberty to worship God according to their conscience. “They knew they were pilgrims,” wrote Bradford, “and looked not much on those things” left behind, “but lifted their eyes to heaven, their dearest country and quieted their spirits.” The Pilgrims were heirs to a long line of persecuted Christians, including some punished with prison or worse for the crime of celebrating Easter…

Here, Louisville has targeted religious worship by prohibiting drive-in church services, while not prohibiting a multitude of other non-religious drive-ins and drive-throughs – including, for example, drive-through liquor stores. Moreover, Louisville has not prohibited parking in parking lots more broadly – including, again, the parking lots of liquor stores…

Louisville’s actions are “underinclusive” and “overbroad.” They’re underinclusive because they don’t prohibit a host of equally dangerous (or equally harmless) activities that Louisville has permitted on the basis that they are “essential.” Those “essential” activities include driving through a liquor store’s pick-up window, parking in a liquor store’s parking lot, or walking into a liquor store where other customers are shopping. The Court does not mean to impugn the perfectly legal business of selling alcohol, nor the legal and widely enjoyed activity of drinking it. But if beer is “essential,” so is Easter…

the Free Exercise Clause protects their right to worship as their conscience commands them. It is not the role of a court to tell religious believers what is and isn’t important to their religion, so long as their belief in the religious importance is sincere. The Free Exercise clause protects sincerely held religious beliefs that are at times not “acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others.”

The Court does not doubt that Mayor Fischer can satisfy his sincerely held religious beliefs by watching a service on the Internet. Millions of Americans will do that this Easter, and the Court does not doubt that they will be true to their own faiths…

It is true that On Fire’s church members could believe in everything Easter teaches them from their homes on Sunday. So too could the Pilgrims before they left Europe. But the Pilgrims demanded more than that. And so too does the Free Exercise Clause. It “guarantees the free exercise of religion, not just the right to inward belief.” That promise is as important for the minister as for those ministered to, as vital to the shepherd as to the sheep. And it is as necessary now as when the Mayflower met Plymouth Rock…

Some who read this Court’s opinion will disagree with the Mayor. Others will disagree with the Court. And each camp will include some readers who share On Fire’s faith, others whose conscience calls them to a different faith, and still others who profess no faith at all. Each of them, believers and non-believers, deserves at least this from the Court: To know why I decided as I did. You may not agree with my reasons, but my role as a judge is to explain, to teach, and perhaps, at least on occasion, to persuade…

The Christians of On Fire, however, owe no one an explanation for why they will gather together this Easter Sunday to celebrate what they believe to be a miracle and a mystery. True, they can attempt to explain it. True, they can try to teach. But to the nonbeliever, the Passion of Jesus – the betrayals, the torture, the state-sponsored murder of God’s only Son, and the empty tomb on the third day – makes no sense at all. And even to the believer, or at least to some of them, it can be incomprehensible as well…

But for the men and women of On Fire, Christ’s sacrifice isn’t about the logic of this world. Nor is their Easter Sunday celebration. The reason they will be there for each other and their Lord is the reason they believe He was and is there for us. For them, for all believers, “it isn’t a matter of reason; finally, it’s a matter of love.”

 

No further commentary is necessary, except to say, thank goodness some judges still understand the importance of freedom and the limited role of government.
 
The full opinion can be seen here: