Court rules that in-person instruction at religious schools can continue

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FRANKFORT, Ky. – The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky Wednesday ruled in favor of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Danville Christian Academy in issuing a statewide preliminary injunction against Governor Andy Beshear’s order banning in-person instruction at religious schools.  The lawsuit was supported by more than one dozen religious schools and over 1,000 Kentucky parents including a school in Bowling Green.

Earlier this week, Cameron’s team argued before the court that the Beshear’s order violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and that religious schools that follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines should be allowed to remain open.  The court agreed with Cameron, and the preliminary injunction prohibits enforcement of the Governor’s order and allows in-person instruction at religious schools to resume immediately.

Nine religious schools and more than 1,000 Kentucky parents filed amicus briefs in support of Attorney General Cameron’s and Danville Christian Academy, Inc.’s lawsuit. One of the nine schools is Foundation Christian Academy in Bowling Green.

Following Wednesday’s ruling, Cameron issued said he was thankful.

“On the day before Thanksgiving, I am incredibly thankful for the timeless and enduring protections enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.  More than 200 years ago, our founders answered the question presented to the court in this case by protecting the free exercise of religion, and today, the court firmly upheld that guarantee by recognizing that Kentuckians have a right to worship and express their faith through a religious education.

“The court prohibited the Governor from enforcing his executive order and unequivocally stated that the Commonwealth’s religious schools can resume in-person learning,” Cameron said. “This is not the first time during this pandemic where religious exercise has been threatened, first with the prohibition on drive-in church services, then in-person worship services, and now in-person instruction at religious schools.

“In each of these instances, the courts have affirmed that the freedoms provided by our Constitution are stronger than the fears of the moment and cannot be cast aside by the Governor or any leader.  Our country was built on the idea of religious freedom and will always be a place of refuge for those of faith.  This pandemic reminds us now, more than ever, of the importance of faith and the reassurance and stability it provides for many in the midst of challenging times,” he said.

In August, at the request of Senator Wil Schroder, Cameron issued Attorney General Opinion 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.  Governor Beshear disregarded the guidance in issuing his recent orders.

In the opinion issued Wednesday, the court pointed to the many activities that Beshear has allowed to continue while banning in-person instruction at religious schools. The court “wonder[ed] why under this executive order, one would be free to attend a lecture, go to work, or attend a concert, but not attend socially distanced chapel in school or pray together in a classroom that is following strict safety procedures and social distancing.” The court emphasized that “[i]f social distancing is good enough for offices, colleges, and universities within the Commonwealth, it is good enough for religious private K-12 schools that benefit from constitutional protection.”

A copy of the court’s ruling is available here.