A federal judge’s decision halting a ban on drive-in church services is being applauded by Christian leaders.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer last week said drive-in church services wouldn’t be allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but On Fire Christian Church – a local congregation – quickly filed suit in federal court. On Saturday, federal judge Justin R. Walker issued a temporary restraining order against the mayor’s prohibition, saying the church had demonstrated a “strong likelihood” to win the case on the merits.
Although Walker’s decision technically applied only to the one church, he added, “Louisville ought not to view the limits of this injunction as a green light to violate the religious liberty of non-parties.”
“On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter,” Walker wrote. “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.”
First Liberty Institute represented the church.
On Fire Christian Church held its drive-in Easter service Sunday. Members parked their cars and rolled down their windows to listen to the pastor’s sermon in the parking lot over a loudspeaker system. The church followed CDC guidelines “to keep everyone safe,” the congregation said in a statement.
Cars had to be parked at least six feet apart, and windows rolled down only halfway.
Walker, in his decision, noted that Louisville’s order labeled a liquor store’s drive-through service “essential” but didn’t carve out such an exception for drive-in churches.
“If beer is ‘essential,’ so is Easter,” Walker wrote.
It isn’t the only legal battle in the U.S. over drive-in church services. Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit on behalf of a church over a similar order in Greenville, Miss. It was filed after police issued $500 fines for those who attended a drive-in service at Temple Baptist Church.
Seminary president Albert Mohler applauded Walker’s decision. There is “justification” for governments to prohibit “all mass assemblies … for a definable period of time” during a pandemic, Mohler said during his Monday edition of The Briefing. But churches must not be singled out, Mohler said.
“Telling people that they can drive-in their cars to the window of a liquor store, but they can't park their car with the windows up near another car in order to hear a message or a worship service – that's fundamentally unacceptable,” said Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
First Liberty’s Roger Byron said Walker “recognized that the mayor’s prohibition of drive-in church services on Easter violated the church’s religious freedom.”
Walker was appointed by President Trump.
Photo courtesy: On Fire Christian Church Facebook
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.