Kansas church exemption is unconstitutional and lethal, FFRF asserts

A recent Kansas move to exempt religious gatherings from coronavirus-related measures could have large-scale deadly consequences, asserts the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Kansas Legislative Coordinating Council, on bad advice from Attorney General Derek Schmidt, has overturned a gubernatorial order banning religious assemblies of 10 individuals or more.

The council’s vote, which comes at about the same time the state crossed the ominous threshold of 1,000 confirmed cases, will kill Kansans, FFRF emphasizes. Data doesn’t lie. One-fourth of Kansas’s confirmed cases have been traced to church gatherings. The number will get worse for the very reason the council held its vote: Easter and Passover are just days away. That’s why the Legislative Coordinating Council’s vote should be rescinded immediately, FFRF contends.

FFRF offers a number of reasons as to why the exemption directive is seriously flawed.

First, religious freedom does not require exempting churches from these orders, the organization insists.

“Americans have rights to worship and to assemble, but neither of those rights is unlimited and neither includes the right to risk other people’s lives,” FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel writes to the attorney general and Legislative Coordinating Council members. “Most importantly, neither right includes the right to risk or threaten the lives of other citizens.”

More than 100 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court explained in a 7-2 opinion that society’s interest in stopping the spread of smallpox was greater than an individual’s religious rights, FFRF adds. And the court has reiterated this again and again.

Second, FFRF maintains, such exemptions unconstitutionally favor churches. Courts have long ruled that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment bars the government from preferring one religion over another, or religion over nonreligion. The exemption for church services violates the First Amendment.

Third, such exemptions are immoral and deadly, FFRF avers. Clerics seeking exemption from social-distancing orders are not simply asking for a right to gather and worship, they are also asking for a right to threaten the lives of every other member of the community. These churches are also overburdening the health care system. Doctors are already working overtime and rationing beds and ventilators. Churches that hold services are contemptuously disregarding the efforts of these heroes.

All this is why the Kansan religious exemption to pandemic precautions needs to be revoked, FFRF concludes.

“To exempt religious worship during a health crisis from a measure designed to ensure everybody’s well-being is nothing short of outrageous,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 31,000 members across the country, including in Kansas. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

FFRF privacy statement