Ahead of Easter Sunday, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly extended a statewide ban on gatherings of 10 or more people, including at religious services and funerals.
In a statement accompanying the announcement, Kelly said it was a “difficult decision” to include worship services and funerals, which had previously been exempted. Kelly made the announcement on Tuesday, noting that the new extended ban would take effect on Wednesday at 12:01 p.m. local time.
“As Holy Week gets underway — and with Kansas rapidly approaching its projected ‘peak’ infection rate in the coming weeks — the risk for a spike in COVID-19 cases through church gatherings is especially dangerous,” she stated.
“I’ve said repeatedly during this crisis that we will adjust to circumstances as they develop to make sure we do everything we can to protect Kansans.”
Kelly also stated that she encouraged “all faith leaders to embrace alternative forms of worship that do not involve in-person congregation.”
“Churches are livestreaming services and bringing their parishioners together over Facebook Live for Bible Study. They also are looking for alternative ways to observe their rituals,” continued the governor.
As state governments have issued orders for people to avoid mass gatherings and other events, some have taken to providing exemptions for houses of worship.
For example, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order banning gatherings of more than 50 people included an exemption for "a place of religious worship."
Whitmer told “Fox News Sunday” host John Roberts in an interview last month that she believed the government did not have the right to order churches to close over the pandemic.
“Well, you know, the separation of church and state and the Republican legislature asked me to clarify that,” Whitmer said at the time.
“That's an area that we don't have the ability to directly enforce and control. We are encouraging people, though, do not congregate.”
Whitmer’s decision was denounced by the liberal Washington, D.C.,-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Americans United President Rachel Laser blasted the exemption in a letter to the governor as being “dangerous” and “unconstitutional.”
“The exemption invites houses of worship to violate the stay-at-home directive, putting the public health at risk,” wrote Laser.
“Attendance at these gatherings is dangerous not just for the individuals who attend, but for all of us. COVID-19 spreads exponentially, so it is critical that we ‘flatten the curve’ by maintaining social distance.”