Kentucky AG Joins Suit Over Governor’s Ban on In-Person Instruction at Religious Schools

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
November 21, 2020Updated: November 22, 2020

The Kentucky attorney general has joined with a Christian school to sue Gov. Andy Beshear to block his order that bans in-person instruction at religious schools.

Beshear issued an order (pdf) on Nov. 18 that directs all public and private elementary, middle, and high schools to cease “in-person instruction and transition to remote or virtual instruction beginning November 23, 2020.”

The state’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, and Danville Christian Academy filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, arguing that Beshear’s order doesn’t make accommodations for religious schools, which they say are a vital part of many faiths.

They say halting in-person instruction at religious schools would violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as well as Kentucky’s equivalent constitutional guarantees and the Commonwealth’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.

“The Governor’s school-closure order prohibits religious organizations from educating children consistent with and according to their faith,” Cameron said in a statement. “The ability to provide and receive a private religious education is a core part of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. Religiously affiliated schools that follow recommended social-distancing guidelines should be allowed to remain open.”

Cameron said his office had issued guidance in August stating that closing religious schools that follow health guidelines during the pandemic would risk violating the Constitution and state laws.

The co-plaintiff, Danville Christian Academy, had implemented rigorous protocols to slow the spread of COVID-19, spending between $20,000 and $30,000 to operationalize a safety plan, the lawsuit states.

At the time, Beshear, who was asked about the guidance, said “nobody is trying to close any school that is complying with guidelines in preventing outbreaks.”

But the attorney general claims “the Governor dismissed the guidance, and he has now forced us to bring a lawsuit to protect the constitutional rights of Kentuckians.”

The lawsuit (pdf) alleges that there is differential treatment between religious schools and secular venues such as libraries, distilleries, fitness centers, and that events with a maximum of 25 people are also allowed.

The school and attorney general are seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to block the enforcement of the executive order, along with a declaration that the order violates the Constitution and other state laws.

Beshear’s press office didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

The 6th Circuit had previously blocked Beshear from enforcing his executive orders prohibiting drive-in church services and in-person church services in May.