(LEX 18) — Attorney General Daniel Cameron on Friday joined Danville Christian Academy, Inc., in filing a lawsuit in federal court against Gov. Andy Beshear asking the court to issue a statewide temporary restraining order against Gov. Beshear's latest order banning in-person instruction at religious schools.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, states that Gov. Beshear's November 18, 2020, executive order halting in-person instruction at religious schools violates 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 (RFRA).
“The Governor’s school-closure order prohibits religious organizations from educating children consistent with and according to their faith,” said Attorney General Cameron in a press release. “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. In August, we issued guidance stating that a closure of religious schools during the pandemic would risk violating the U.S. Constitution and state law. The Governor dismissed the guidance, and he has now forced us to bring a lawsuit to protect the constitutional rights of Kentuckians.”
In August, the Attorney General issued OAG 20-13 finding that the Governor, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and other state or local officials cannot order the closure of religiously affiliated schools that are in compliance with reasonable health guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Danville Christian Academy, the co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, has spent between $20,000 and $30,000 to implement protocols to provide in-person instruction.
“We continue to hear that the classroom is the safest place for our children during this pandemic,” said House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade. “Our schools have done a tremendous job planning and implementing safety procedures in our school systems and a phenomenal job of keeping our children safe. As we continue to make decisions that will affect hundreds of thousands of Kentucky children and their families, we need to check our emotions at the door and make decisions based on credible facts.”
Gov. Andy Beshear's office released the following statement regarding the lawsuit.
“The Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Governor has the constitutional authority to issue orders to help save lives. This week, Kentucky has a 9% COVID-19 positivity rate, 112 red zone counties and nearly 10,000 students and staff in quarantine. Of those, nearly 1,700 tested positive for the virus. This week, we also lost our first student to the virus – a 15-year-old girl from Ballard County – and a teacher. The Governor has followed the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the White House Coronavirus Task Force and public health experts; and many other Governors across the country are taking similar actions to protect the health and lives of children and families. The attorney general should stop playing politics and instead help Kentuckians understand what it takes to defeat this virus.”