FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Two federal judges in Kentucky tonight blocked the state from enforcing Gov. Andy Beshear's executive order barring in-person religious services, as long as churches comply with social distancing guidelines.
U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove issued a temporary restraining order in the case brought by Tabernacle Baptist Church of Nicholasville while U.S. District Judge David J. Hale issued a similar order in a case brought by Maryville Baptist Church in Bullitt County.
The ruling in the Tabernacle case further applies to all churches statewide. Judge Van Tatenhove wrote in his order that because some businesses are allowed to remain open as long as they follow social distancing guidelines, churches should have the same right.
"If social distancing is good enough for Home Depot and Kroger, it is good enough for in-person religious services which, unlike the foregoing, benefit from constitutional protection," Van Tatenhove wrote.
Judge Van Tatenhove said his order is conditional upon churches following guidelines on mass gatherings issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Judge Hale reached a similar conclusion.
"[Gov. Beshear] still 'has offered no good reason ... for refusing to trust congregants who promise to use care in worship in just the same way [he] trusts accountants, lawyers and laundromat workers to do the same,'" Judge Hale wrote.
Kentucky Attorney General David Cameron released a statement praising the rulings.
"Freedom of religion, enshrined in the founding documents of our nation and our Commonwealth, has been affirmed many times over by our judiciary and was once again upheld tonight," Cameron said.
However, Cameron also urged churches to keep the health and safety of parishioners in mind when deciding whether or not to hold services.
"I encourage all houses of worship to prayerfully and carefully consider when it is the right time to resume in-person services consistent with health guidelines," Cameron said. "Although these rulings protect the religious liberty of Kentuckians, we must continue to do our part to protect the health of our fellow citizens by reopening carefully."