Some Kentucky churches plan to gather, despite virus orders


(Cropped Photo: Steven Kyle Adair / CC BY 2.0 via MGN Online)

By Associated Press

Some Kentucky churches are still planning to hold in-person church services this Sunday, despite statewide orders that ban mass gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Louisville preacher Jack Roberts told The Courier Journal that he would rather go to jail and court than pay a fine for violating the March 19 order of Kentucky’s health department.

He said the prohibition violates First Amendment and state constitutional rights. Roberts said he has encouraged social distancing at his Maryville Baptist Church and asked people at high risk of infection to stay home and watch live-streamed services.

“I’m not interested in trying to defy the government,” Roberts told the newspaper. “I don’t want to battle with anybody. What I’d like to do is just preach the Gospel, and that’s become more difficult as time’s gone on. And it’s truthfully what I plan on doing.”

Louisville’s Our Savior Lutheran is also continuing in-person services, with online registration required beforehand and seating restricted to every other pew.

Our Savior Pastor Joshua Cook said in a YouTube video he felt he should keep the church open “because I believe and confess that this is a spiritual hospital and that there are times when spiritual emergencies require access to God’s house.”

Some states, including Florida, have made exemptions to allow religious gatherings to proceed during the coronavirus. Kentucky does not have that exemption.

Before it became an order, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear first issued guidance that churches cancel in-person services on March 11.

Beshear said Friday that he’s aware of “very few” churches that are still holding normal in-person services. He suggested having a sheriff’s deputy or state police car in the parking lot to remind them they are “spreading the coronavirus beyond their church, beyond any meeting that they’re at.”

“Is it worth losing 5% of your church, 10% of your church?” Beshear said. “When you show back up for Christmas, do you want to look around and see an entire part of the pews that used to be filled that aren’t? This isn’t a test of faith. This is our time to use the wisdom that God provides us to protect ourselves and one another and watch the virtual service.”

According to state officials’ count Saturday, Kentucky cases since the pandemic began surpassed 910 and the death toll reached at least 40.

Asked during his daily update Saturday, the governor said that he would wear a cloth mask in certain public settings in line with what federal health officials have begun recommending. But he also said he hasn’t been in a car in about 18 days and has only been in two places.

“I’m trying to model what I’m asking everybody else to do,” Beshear said.

Most people who contract COVID-19 have mild or moderate symptoms, which can include fever and cough but also milder cases of pneumonia, sometimes requiring hospitalization. The risk of death is greater for older adults and people with other health problems.