KANSAS CITY – A federal judge says a Missouri Baptist church’s lawsuit against Jackson County’s COVID orders can continue, even as Jackson County abandoned its mask mandate.
Abundant Life, a Lee’s Summit church, filed suit in March 2020, when Jackson County announced it would limit churches to 10 worshippers regardless of building size. Rules for commercial businesses were less onerous. Later versions also included “gathering protocol” that lacked proper First Amendment safeguards, according to the church.
Jackson County said the suit should be dismissed, because the plan had repeatedly changed. But Judge Rosanne Ketchmark of the US District Court in Kansas City said the church can pursue claims for religious discrimination in earlier versions of Jackson County’s Health Orders. She ruled the May 14 order does not evidence any Constitutional issues, but noted that restrictions could be re-imposed in the future.
“We are grateful that Judge Ketchmark faithfully applied current Supreme Court precedent, and allowed these claims to go forward” said Jonathan Whitehead, an attorney for the church. “The First Amendment protects everyone, even during a pandemic. Jackson County restricted religious worship, regardless of the facility or the activity inside. Jackson County has never explained why churches couldn’t follow the same rules as essential businesses. And the Health Department has never explained why churches in different areas of the County were treated under different rules.” Ketchmark dismissed individual claims against Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr., Jackson County Administrator Troy Schulte, and Health Director Bridgette Shaffer. Ketchmark said the claims against the County, which will go forward, cover the same issues.
The case is Abundant Life Baptist Church of Lee’s Summit, Missouri v. Jackson County, Missouri et al., 4:20-cv-00367-RK (WD.Mo.) If not resolved earlier, the case is set for trial in December 2021.