FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Attorney General Daniel Cameron moved to join a lawsuit seeking to end Governor Beshear’s executive order that currently bans faith-based gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday.
The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky by Tabernacle Baptist Church of Nicholasville, seeks an injunction against Gov. Beshear’s March 19 and March 25 executive orders. In his suit, Attorney General Cameron alleges that the Governor’s orders violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, Sections 1 and 5 of the Kentucky Constitution, and Kentucky’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“Even in times of crisis, the law must be followed, and it’s my job as Attorney General to defend it when it comes under attack,” said Cameron. “Our Constitution demands neutrality, and Governor Beshear’s executive orders target the practice of religion in every part of the Commonwealth by allowing secular activities while prohibiting faith-based gatherings. Corporate worship is an important part of many faiths, and we have to balance that right with the need to protect public health during this crisis. Governor Beshear’s orders fail to strike this important and necessary balance.”
Roger Byron, the attorney representing Tabernacle Baptist Church, said if people are allowed to continue to gather in places like grocery and hardware stores, in-person church services should be allowed as well.
"The government cannot prohibit a group from gathering in a room for a religious reason but at the same time allow a group to gather in a room for a non-religious reason," Byron said, "particularly when both groups are committed to following the CDC's guidelines."
Gov. Andy Beshear has announced plans to allow churches to begin to offer in-person services May 20. At his daily coronavirus briefing Wednesday, Beshear said he believes churches need the time to prepare to protect people.
"Nobody can meet the CDC guidelines tomorrow," Beshear said. "I mean, they may think they can because you hear six feet apart, it's a lot more than that."
He encouraged people to continue to hold virtual and drive-in services for now.
"Make sure that when you reopen your church that it doesn't end up causing harm to people in your congregation," he said.
Byron claims the church does have plans to follow CDC guidelines and would like the orders lifted as soon as possible. He's asked a judge to issue a temporary restraining order, that if granted, would allow the Tabernacle Baptist to hold service this Sunday.
A copy of the complaint filed by Cameron can be found here.
A copy of the complaint filed by Tabernacle Baptist Church can be found here.