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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher May 7, 2020

No, churchgoers don’t have to register with the government

If Your Time is short

  • A blog post claimed that Kansas City’s stay-at-home order in response to COVID-19 required churchgoers to “register with the government.”

  • The mayor issued an order, as part of gradually reopening the city, that would have required churches to keep attendance lists for their events in case a coronavirus outbreak was traced to a particular gathering. But before that order took effect, the mayor issued a new order that made the attendance lists recommended, not mandatory. 

  • There was never a requirement for churchgoers to register with the government.

A group fighting COVID-19 stay-at-home orders that restrict religious gatherings made a reference to Nazi Germany in a post that carried this ominous headline:

"Churchgoers Must Register With the Government in Kansas City."

The post was published by Liberty Counsel, a national conservative Christian organization based in Orlando, Fla. It was signed by the group's founder, Mat Staver, who is a pastor and attorney, and included several fundraising appeals.

The blog post, widely shared on Facebook, was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) The group changed its headline after we published this fact-check.

Kansas City’s mayor did issue an order that would have required churches to keep attendance lists at their gatherings, to be used by health officials in the event that a coronavirus outbreak was tied to a particular gathering. Such information could help with contact tracing, a process by which public health workers try to learn as they can about who a patient has been in contact with so those people can be notified about their potential exposure.

But before that order took effect, the mayor issued a new order making the lists voluntary, not mandatory. 

Churchgoers were never required to register with the city.

Group fights coronavirus orders

In its May 1 post, Liberty Counsel claimed Kansas City officials are "requiring every church to submit a list of members and attendees along with their names, addresses and telephone numbers to city officials for tracking and surveillance purposes." The last five words appear in italics.

"The Germans did this very thing to Jews — collecting the names and locations of all known synagogue attendees -- in the early days of the Nazi regime," the post claimed.

(It’s worth noting that the group sued Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear in April after attendees at an Easter Sunday service inside a Louisville-area church were issued quarantine notices by Kentucky State Police.) 

One order required lists

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas issued a stay-at-home order on March 12 and has amended it five times as the coronavirus outbreak has played out. 

When PolitiFact asked Liberty Counsel for information to back up its claim, the group cited Lucas’ fourth and fifth amended orders. 

Featured Fact-check

On April 30, the Fourth Amended Order said that effective May 6, non-essential businesses, including churches, could reopen to the public. They had to limit their premises to no more than 10 customers or guests at a time, or 10% of the building occupancy, whichever is larger; and they had to keep records of anyone who stayed on the premises for more than 10 minutes.

The order singled out religious gatherings, including weddings, funerals, memorial services and wakes. The order said the so-called "10/10/10" provisions apply, although up to 50 people could gather for outdoor events, as long as organizers for any events "maintain a record of attendees."

The mayor’s office reiterated in a news release at the time that religious gatherings could resume as long as event organizers record the names and contact information of all attendees.

The city’s rationale for recording names was that health officials or event organizers could contact people in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak traced to a particular gathering.

The requirement for keeping attendance lists never took effect, however.

On May 4, three days after the Liberty Counsel post, Lucas amended the order again to make keeping lists of customers or guests recommended, but not required, for non-essential businesses. The Fifth Amended Order again singled out religious gatherings: 

"In the interest of public health and to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak in the community, event organizers should consider maintaining a record of attendees where appropriate. Attendees are not required, however, to provide their names or contact information at any religious gathering."

Lucas was criticized for making the change without any news release or other announcement.

In a frequently asked questions document on the order, the city said the purpose of the recommendation was "to more quickly trace, test and isolate individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19 if an employee or customer had the virus at the time they frequented the business." It also stated that all data would "remain confidential and will be used only to address public health concerns and contact individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19."

Our ruling

An article shared on Facebook claimed that under a Kansas City mayor’s COVID-19 order, Kansas City "churchgoers must register with the government."

As part of an order governing the gradual reopening of the city, the mayor initially ordered churches to keep lists of people attending church gatherings so that attendees could be contacted if a coronavirus outbreak traced to a particular gathering occurred. Four days later, that order was changed to make attendance list keeping recommended, but not mandatory. 

However, no order ever required churchgoers to register with the government. In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, however, it’s possible that names on attendance lists kept by churches would be turned over to the city.

The claim contains an element of truth, but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. That’s our definition of  Mostly False.

UPDATE, May 11, 2020: This story has been updated to reflect that Liberty Counsel updated its blog post with a new headline following publication of this fact-check. 

Our Sources

Liberty Counsel, "Churchgoers Must Register With the Government in Kansas City," May 1, 2020

Email, lawyer Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel founder and chairman, May 5, 2020

Liberty Counsel, news release, May 5, 2020

Email, Holly Meade, Liberty Counsel director of communications, May 5, 2020

Snopes, "Is Kansas City Ordering Churchgoers To Register with the Government?," May 5, 2020

City of Kansas City, Missouri, "KCMO Reopens FAQ," accessed May 4, 2020

Kansas City Mayor, "Fifth Amended Order 20-01," May 4, 2020

Liberty Counsel, "Fourth Amended Order 20-01," April 30, 2020

Kansas City Mayor, news release, April 29, 2020

USA Today, "Fact Check: Kansas City did not require churches to turn over membership lists," May 6, 2020

Interview, Morgan Said, communications director for Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, May 5, 2020

Kansas City Star, "Kansas City mayor issues stringent COVID-19 rules to any business reopening in May," April 29, 2020

KCTV-TV, "Mayor Lucas announces 10-10-10 plan for Kansas City reopening," April 29, 2020

Kansas City Star, "Kansas City mayor relaxes rule for businesses reopening from COVID-19 shutdown," May 5, 2020

Kansas City Star, "Why did KC Mayor Quinton Lucas change rule on COVID-19 contact tracing and not say so?," May 7, 2020

KCUR-FM, "Kansas City Mayor Announces Some Easing Of Stay-At-Home Orders Prior To May 15," April 29, 2020

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No, churchgoers don’t have to register with the government

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