Churches still defying Beshear’s orders to stop in-person gatherings

Rev. Jack Roberts is still holding services at Maryville Baptist Church despite Gov. Beshear's...
Rev. Jack Roberts is still holding services at Maryville Baptist Church despite Gov. Beshear's order not to do so.(WAVE 3 News)
Updated: Apr. 9, 2020 at 12:02 AM EDT
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BULLITT COUNTY, Ky. (WAVE) - Governor Andy Beshear warned Wednesday that pastors who plan to defy his order against holding in-person services on Easter Sunday will be shut down by police.

Despite being called out by the governor, Maryville Baptist Church in Hillview is still in open. Its leaders held their Wednesday night Bible Study. It appeared dozens of people parked off site and walked to the church.

Reverend Jack Roberts told WAVE 3 News he will be holding Easter service on Sunday no matter what the governor says.

He’s not alone, either.

Rev Wilbur Browning also held a prayer service at Centennial Olivet Baptist Church on Wednesday evening and plans to hold Easter worship services as well.

“What we’re doing is not out of any sense of or acts of civil disobedience,” Browning said. "It’s not about that at all. This is about who we are as a people of God and where we stand on the word of God and that’s why we’re doing this.”

Browning said his congregation only has between 15 to 25 members that are meeting in person right now, and all others who are immunocompromised are watching a Facebook livestream of services.

He also said they are sanitizing and making sure people are spaced out at their meetings, because not gathering as a congregation is out of the question.

“Worship for us is a lifestyle, so when we come together to worship, as a part of a gathering, as we believe that God gives us that privilege," Browning explained. "That’s our worship. So, it allows us to come away from all of the hype and everything that’s going on in the world. So, when we come in here we leave the coronavirus out there.”

Browning sees his ministry as essential to the California neighborhood, serving as a Dare to Care food distribution site and providing other community services.

“Whatever the government might say that says we have to close our doors, we don’t answer to that,” Browning said. “We abide by all of the other rules that do not cross our faith, but when it comes to this, this is where we’re at. Our doors are going to stay open.”

Many like Browning and Roberts say Beshear’s order to close churches is a violation of First Amendment rights.

“The law is very clear on this point, that the First Amendment protects religious practice only to the extent that churches are not singled out or being disfavored, and being given less equal treatment from non-religious institutions or individuals,” Professor Sam Marcosson with the UofL Brandeis School of Law said. “What’s going on here is that the governor is subjecting churches and religious services to the exact same rule that applies to everyone else.”

Marcosson explains that even though people are given rights by the Constitution, no one gets to exercise those rights in a way that is harmful to others.

“That’s the source of the famous adage from Justice Brandeis, that you cannot falsely yell, ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater, because your speech in that case would be so harmful to others who would panic and cause a stampede, and they will be crushed and killed,” Marcosson said. “So you’re right to free speech is not absolute, neither is your right to free exercise of religion.”

Mitchel Denham with DBL Law also comes to the same conclusion that the governor’s order does not violate any religious freedoms.

“Governor Beshear absolutely has the legal authority to limit gatherings at of more than 10 people during the COVID-19 state of emergency under the Kentucky Constitution and under the Kentucky Revised Statutes, including gatherings at churches," Denham told WAVE 3 News. "His Executive Order does not target churches or other religious organizations, but is generally applicable to all gatherings of 10 persons or more. The Order is also tailored to meet the legitimate concern of public safety which is to stop the spread of COVID-19 and save the lives of Kentuckians.”

There’s still no word yet on what action will be taken against Maryville Baptist before Easter Sunday.

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