Rescinding the Order Was Wrong, and Here is Why

Yesterday, the Legislative Coordinating Council voted 5-2, along party lines, to rescind Gov. Laura Kelly's Executive order extending 10-person limits to include funerals and religious services. The reasons given to do this were lofty and also trite, and ultimately puts Kansans in harms way.

When the COVID-19 crisis was just beginning, the Kansas Legislature gave Gov. Laura Kelly emergency powers to protect Kansans. But several extremists, worried she would use those powers to enact some liberal agenda, sought to take them back, or cripple her ability to keep us all safe. As the Legislative Session was quickly wrapped up, a compromise was reached, giving the existing Legislative Coordinating Council (LCC) the charge to review and either uphold or rescind the Governor's orders in this regard. The LCC is made up of the Leadership of the Kansas Statehouse, and as a result includes five Republicans and two Democrats. Approval of any motion conveniently requires five votes, so bipartisanship is not required.

But these are the structures we have in place, and the compromise that was reached worked well, until it hit a roadblock when Gov. Kelly removed the special exemption on 10 person limits for religious services.

Mainstream and other organizations put out a call for the public to send email to the members of the LCC, expressing support for Gov. Kelly's order. Hundreds of Kansans expressed their views, with almost 500 emails sent by the Mainstream community alone, but when the LCC met on Wednesday the outcome was a foregone conclusion. During the first hour of discussion, KDHE Secretary Dr. Lee Norman explained that three of the twelve COVID-19 clusters in the state were the result of church gatherings. He disclosed that one of those three was in Wyandotte County, another in Sedgwick County. After the discussion portion ended, despite asking no questions, and apparently without having listened to Dr. Norman, Rep. Dan Hawkins (*M:17%) declared by way of dismissing the importance of this restriction, that "This comes down to one or two churches in one county."

The Council should not have required Dr. Norman's appearance if they had already determined they would ignore his expertise. None of this was unexpected, of course. The five votes to rescind came from legislators with an average *M score of 20%.

Also unsurprising was the declaration from them that this order amounted to an unconstitutional blow to our religious freedoms, a sentiment echoed earlier in the day by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who declared that police should not enforce the order even if it stood.

Mainstream was founded by deeply religious individuals, to protect the separate autonomy of religion and government. Our founding principles declare the importance of respecting the rights, beliefs, and freedoms of every individual. Our nation is built on a number of inalienable liberties.

But here is what makes our country's protection of freedoms great. We are free to speak, pray, assemble, and more, so long as that practice does not harm others. You can speak your mind, but not if it harms another person. You cannot commit slander or libel, you cannot shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. You can assemble for protest, so long as it does not turn to riot. And you can pray, so long as you do not force another to pray or submit to your religion.

That distinction is almost always lost on extremists.

In this case, gatherings of more than ten people have the potential to harm, even kill many Kansans. This order did not prevent worship, just gatherings. It did not abrogate the right to practice any religion, just to practice it in large groups. Most importantly, this was not an attack on the freedom of religion, but an order to protect Kansans while preserving their rights.

Our communities are dependent on our first responders and our essential workers. The vote to rescind this order has put them in greater danger. Dr. Norman said much the same, in no uncertain terms.

Stay home to stay safe, and do more than vote.

- Danny Novo
  Communications Director

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