Lawmakers overturn religious worship size limits in Kansas

Inside of a church, showing center of seating row

FreeImages.com/Nat Arnett

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order restricting the size of religious gatherings amid the coronavirus outbreak has been overturned after the state’s top prosecutor said it likely violates the state constitution.

(Previous Story: Kansas extends order keeping religious and funeral gatherings to 10 or less people)

The Legislative Coordinating Council voted 5-2 Wednesday to undo the order that limited in-person religious services and funerals to 10 people. The move came after Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, said that while the order was “sound public-health advice that Kansans should follow,” he was discouraging law enforcement agencies and prosecutors statewide from attempting to enforce the requirements.

With Easter approaching, Kelly, a Democrat, issued the order Tuesday because of three outbreaks that had been connected to religious gatherings. Dr. Lee Norman, the state health department’s head, said 165 had been sickened in those outbreaks.

“In our view, Kansas statute and the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights each forbid the governor from criminalizing participation in worship gatherings by executive order,” wrote Schmidt, adding that Kansas statutory and constitutional law provide substantially more protection for religious freedoms than does federal law.

Statewide, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 grew Wednesday to 1,008, up from 900 Tuesday, with 38 deaths.

The sickened include 56 patients and staff members at the Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation in Kansas City, Kansas. Six have died and seven are hospitalized, health officials with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County said Wednesday.

State health officials are monitoring the outbreak. Previously that state’s largest outbreak had been at the Life Care Center of Burlington, where 41 residents and one staff member have tested positive. One resident at that facility has died.

Most infected people develop mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within three weeks, such as fever and cough. But older adults and people with existing health problems are particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.

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