Attorney General Cameron: State cannot close religious schools that follow COVID-19 recommendations

Posted at 4:33 PM, Aug 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-19 16:57:01-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Attorney General Daniel Cameron says forcing religiously-affiliated schools to close violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and state law.

In the Attorney General Opinion released Wednesday, state and local leaders cannot order the closure of religious schools that comply with social distancing and health guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The opinion says leaders "are prohibited from closing religiously affiliated schools because it does not appear that school closure is the least restrictive means to serve a compelling state interest."

"Our courts have consistently held, throughout this pandemic, that religious entities are protected by our Constitution," said Attorney General Cameron. "Religiously affiliated schools are an important extension of faith for many Kentucky families, and the state cannot prevent them from operating so long as necessary health precautions are observed."

The opinion says parents can send their children to religiously-affiliated schools and that religious organizations have a First Amendment right to open and operate schools as long as they are consistent with recommended health guidelines.

Closing religious schools could risk violating the Constitution, according to the Attorney General's office. They say it would also violate Kentucky's Religious Freedom Restoration (RFRA) act, which provides that the government cannot "substantially burden" a religious belief without demonstrating "a compelling governmental interest" and using "the least restrictive means to further that interest."

When asked by LEX 18's Katherine Collins about the opinion in a Wednesday afternoon COVID-19 briefing, Governor Andy Beshear said nobody is "trying to close any school that's complying with guidelines and preventing outbreaks."

Read a copy of the opinion below: