Following what a local police chief called “a lot of legal wrangling” in Topeka, members of the Leavenworth Police Department will not be enforcing a governor’s order that sought to limit the size of religious gatherings.
The executive order, issued Tuesday by Gov. Laura Kelly, called for the number of attendees of church and other religious services to be limited to 10 or less. The order applied the same restriction to funerals.
Other activities in the state already were limited to 10 or less people in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The order that placed the restriction on churches and funerals was scheduled to go into effect Wednesday.
But on Wednesday, the office of Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a memorandum to prosecutors and law enforcement officials in Kansas that states, “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.”
However, the memorandum argues that Kansans should voluntarily adhere to the limitations on religious gatherings in the governor’s order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The memorandum advises law enforcement officers to encourage cooperative compliance but “to avoid engaging in criminal enforcement of its limitations on religious facilities, services or activities.”
Also Wednesday, the state’s Legislative Coordinating Council voted to overturn the governor’s order that placed the limitation on attendance of church gatherings and funerals.
Kelly announced Thursday she has instructed legal counsel to file a lawsuit against the Legislative Coordinating Council, indicating she will challenge whether the panel has the authority to interfere with her executive orders.
Leavenworth Police Chief Pat Kitchens had said Wednesday that officers would be communicating with local church officials to make sure they were aware of the governor’s order.
But Kitchens said Thursday that Leavenworth police officers “are going to pretend that (Wednesday) never happened.”
“We’re going to pretend like it’s Tuesday morning again,” Kitchens said, referring to the period before the governor issued her order.
Kitchens said people attending church services should still observe social distancing by remaining at least six feet apart.