April 11, 2020

Rob Lauer Political Reporter

Nevada Gov. Sisolak issued the same exact rule earlier this week banning Drive Up Easter Services throughout Nevada. Now a Federal Judge has ruled in an exact case on point in Kentucky.

As reporter in the Legal Insurrection:

The Mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, has threatened to fine anyone who attends a drive-in Easter Sunday church service, even though attendees would remain in their cars in the parking lot.

The On Fire Christian Center sought an emergency Temporary Restraining Order (TRO)(pdf.) which was granted today by federal Judge Justin Walker in the Western District of Kentucky. Walker, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and protege of Mitch McConnell, recently was nominated to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and his nomination is expected to incide a scorched-earth opposition.

Judge Justin Walker, who has been nominated by Donald Trump to the D.C. Circuit and is close to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, found that the city unconstutionally prohibited drive-in religious services while not imposing such restrictions on parking at restaurants and liquor stores.

The TRO, granted ex parte without giving the City of Louisville a chance to be heard, provides in part:

1. The Court GRANTS the motion for a temporary restraining order filed by On Fire Christian Center, Inc. (“On Fire”) against Mayor Greg Fischer and the City of Louisville (together, “Louisville”).
2. The Court ENTERS this Temporary Restraining Order on Saturday, April 11, 2020 at 2:00 P.M.1
3. The Court ENJOINS Louisville from enforcing; attempting to enforce; threatening to enforce; or otherwise requiring compliance with any prohibition on drive-in church services at On Fire.2
4. Unless the Court enters this Temporary Restraining Order, the members of On Fire will suffer irreparable harm.3 The government plans to substantially burden their religious practice on one of the most important holidays of the Christian calendar, Easter Sunday.4
5. Notice to Louisville before entering this Temporary Restraining Order isn’t necessary.5 The facts in On Fire’s affidavit “clearly show that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result to [On Fire] before [Louisville] may be heard in opposition.”6 J. Brooken Smith, On Fire’s lawyer, certified that he sent Louisville a letter yesterday detailing their potential claims but didn’t hear anything back.7
6. The Court issued this Temporary Restraining Order without notice because Easter Sunday is less than one day away.8 Providing notice to Louisville before entering this Temporary Restraining Order would be impractical in such a short period of time.

The opinion does not question the governments ability to impose restrictions on the public to fight a pandemic. The central reasoning of the opinion is that because Louisville does not impose similar restrictions on parking at drive-through restaurants or liquor stores, singling out a religious establishment for more harsh treatment is unconstitutional.

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