FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – Gov. Andy Beshear’s appeal of a federal court ruling allowing in-person instruction at Kentucky faith-based schools was met with more criticism from Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who filed a brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on Saturday in response to the governor’s appeal.
“The District Court’s ruling was incredibly clear, a religious education is an important component of religious expression and is protected by the U.S. Constitution,” Cameron said. “In a separate case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that governors cannot impose more stringent restrictions on religious institutions than they do on secular gatherings, which Governor Beshear is currently doing in Kentucky by banning in-person instruction at religious schools.”
Cameron said it’s troubling that after that ruling, the governor continues to “target religious schools and saying he has the power to suspend state law protecting Kentuckians’ religious liberty."
On Thanksgiving Day, Beshear filed an emergency appeal with the Sixth Circuit of U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove’s decision Wednesday to grant a preliminary injunction to 17 private Christian schools that had filed against a lawsuit against Beshear’s restriction to slow the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s frightening that the Governor believes he can suspend religious liberty,” Cameron tweeted on Thanksgiving. “The Governor is not above the law, and we urge him to drop this ill-conceived appeal and to halt his attacks on religious freedoms.”
In his 45-page appeal, Beshear said the lower court’s ruling “not only immediately impedes the Commonwealth’s ability to enact public health measures to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19, but also eviscerates free exercise jurisprudence to call into question any neutrally-applicable public health measure a state would enact to protect children and staff of religiously-affiliated schools.”
Cameron tweeted that “emboldened by the Supreme Court of Kentucky’s recent decision, the Governor claims that he suspended the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that the Legislature passed by overwhelming majorities to protect the religious liberties of Kentuckians.”
The General Assembly overrode a veto of the act by Gov. Steve Beshear in 2013 to pass the act by a strong majority.
Cameron joined with Danville Christian Academy in a lawsuit against Gov. Andy Beshear’s restrictions of not allowing private religious schools to meet in-person as an infringement on First Amendment rights.
Cameron's brief said “by invoking ‘schools’ as a category, Governor Beshear is doing nothing more than imposing a restriction based on why people gather together (for education) — rather than regulating the risks that actually arise from such gatherings. This is contrary to this Court’s precedent, which directs that the Governor must treat religious institutions the same as secular activities that ‘pose comparable public health risks’ even when the reason for gathering together is different.”
In the appeal, Beshear said the judge’s order “will cause imminent irreparable harm to the people of Kentucky beginning Monday, November 30, 2020, by facilitating the spread of a deadly disease.” He said having 15 days of remote instruction while the COVID-19 surge continues would not harm schools.
Tatenhove struck down an executive order from Beshear in the summer asking churches to stop in-person services to prevent spreading the virus. The judge awarded Tabernacle Baptist Church in Nicholasville, an Independent Baptist church, a temporary restraining order.
Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles was critical of Beshear’s order, too, in a Twitter statement.
“Religious liberty is a cornerstone of America’s founding & many churches live out their faith by teaching children,” Quarles said in a tweet. “Further, the CDC has made it clear children can attend school in person. We should leave it to parents & schools to make those decisions.”
Republican lawmakers have criticized the governor for not allowing them in on the conversation as it relates to COVID-19.
On Thursday, there were 3,870 cases of the coronavirus reported to state public health officials, a record for a single day in Kentucky, along with 32 deaths.