County commissioner says city mask orders unconstitutional

John Richmeier

A Leavenworth County commissioner contends that mask ordinances adopted by the cities of Leavenworth and Lansing are unconstitutional because they do not include exceptions for churches.

County Commissioner Mike Stieben raised the issue Wednesday during a County Commission meeting that was attended by the city manager of Leavenworth.

Stieben, who represents the Tonganoxie area on the County Commission, argued the ordinances approved the Leavenworth City Commission and Lansing City Council “are defective because they discriminate against religious organizations.”

“I think they are very unconstitutional,” Stieben said.

The Leavenworth and Lansing ordinances, both of which went into effect last month, require people to wear masks in public spaces.

Speaking to City Manager Paul Kramer on Wednesday, Stieben said the city of Leavenworth’s ordinance provides an exception that allows people to remove masks in restaurants. But he said the ordinance does not provide an exception for churches.

Leavenworth’s ordinance does not require people to wear masks when they “are seated at a restaurant or other establishment that offers food or beverage service, while they are eating or drinking, provided they maintain a 6-foot distance between individuals (not including individuals who reside together or are seated together) with only infrequent or incidental moments of closer proximity.”

The city of Lansing’s mask ordinance contains a similar exemption for people who are eating or drinking at restaurants.

Stieben said the cities need to provide exceptions for churches and other religious organizations.

Stieben presented Kramer with a copy of a ruling from a U.S. District Court judge in Colorado in a case involving a challenge of COVID-19 orders by two churches.

The judge ordered state officials in Colorado not to enforce indoor occupancy limitations and a mask requirement against the two churches that are plaintiffs in the case as part of a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

There is no countywide mask order in Leavenworth County. The County Commission exempted the county from a mask order issued by the governor, but commissioners have encouraged people to wear masks.

Kramer said Thursday that he has advised the Leavenworth city attorney of what he was told during the County Commission meeting. Kramer said he does not anticipate any other follow-up.

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