Heritage Baptist Church defies governor’s order with Easter services

photo by: Elvyn Jones

About 40 vehicles were parked at 11 a.m. in the rear parking lot Sunday, April 12, 2020, of the Heritage Baptist Church, 1781 East 800 Road, as the congregation had Easter services in defiance to Gov. Laura Kelly's executive order banning all gatherings of more than 10 people.

Updated 2:40 p.m.

A large rural Douglas County church had Easter services Sunday, the day after the Kansas Supreme Court let stand Gov. Laura Kelly’s ban on religious gatherings of more than 10 people to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Lawrence Journal World observed about 40 vehicles shortly after 11 a.m. in the rear parking lot of the Heritage Baptist Church, 1781 East 800 Road. The Rev. Scott Hanks, who leads the congregation, said Heritage Baptist had services despite being aware of Kelly’s order that limits all assemblies, including church services, to 10 participants.

“God wants us to have church,” he said.

But it was unclear Sunday afternoon whether the church would face any penalties for violating the order or whether any of the attendees would be required to quarantine after participating in the large group gathering.

Kelly modified her previous statewide stay-at-home order on Tuesday to ban religious services and funerals of more than 10 people after three community-spread outbreaks in the state were traced to such gatherings.

Hanks refused to say how many attended service Sunday. He maintained the service did not put his congregation or the community at risk.

“Our church is practicing social distancing and all the guidelines in place the past few weeks,” he said. “We are doing the best to be safe. We are aware of the virus. A person just needs to use logic. I can go into a Walmart, a liquor store or a grocery store filled with people, but I can’t go into a church and stay six foot apart from people?”

In an email to the Journal-World, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Jenn Hethcoat said the Sheriff’s Office was aware Heritage Baptist Church was having services, but could not enforce the governor’s order until it was published by the Kansas Secretary of State.

Hanks said Sunday wasn’t just an exception made for Easter, and the congregation planned to keep having Sunday service.

“We have canceled everything else the ministry does here except for church,” he said.

No one in the church congregation or any one related to a church member has been diagnosed with COVID-19, Hanks said.

George Diepenbrock, spokesman for the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, said reports of services at Heritage Baptist would be treated like any other complaint the agency receives.

“Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health would follow up with a conversation to reinforce our social-distancing messages,” he wrote in an email to the Journal-World.


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