Liberty Counsel filed the reply brief to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that Maryville Baptist Church and the pastor, Dr. Jack Roberts, are the prevailing parties in the federal lawsuit against Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear for his unlawful lockdown restrictions, and as a result, Liberty Counsel should be awarded attorney’s fees and costs.
In a similar case, Roberts v. Neace, those plaintiffs attended the church on the same day and already have been awarded attorney’s fee by the Sixth Circuit. In fact, the Court stated that Governor Beshear ended his worship ban because of the injunctions obtained by Liberty Counsel’s case, Maryville Baptist Church, Inc. v. Beshear.
In the Roberts opinion, the same three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit wrote, “A defendant may not fairly claim that he voluntarily amended his behavior after a court enjoins his old ways. ‘An immediately enforceable preliminary injunction compelled [him] to.’… But whatever room the Governor had to maneuver, he could not continue to do what he had done before or prosecute the congregants for what they had already done. The preliminary injunctions limited him in ways that he could not ignore.”
“Gauged by these principles, the congregants prevailed. The federal courts enjoined the limitations on religious gatherings and interstate travel. Both injunctions changed the legal relationship between the congregants and Governor Beshear because they stopped the Governor from enforcing his orders and allowed the congregants to act in ways that he had ‘previously resisted.’ That is ‘assuredly’ a material, court-ordered change.”
“But whatever room the Governor had to maneuver, he could not continue to do what he had done before or prosecute the congregants for what they had already done. The preliminary injunctions limited him in ways that he could not ignore,” wrote the Sixth Circuit.
In addition, the preliminary injunction issued on May 2, 2020 by the Sixth Circuit in Liberty Counsel’s case, has been cited by other courts 49 times.
Liberty Counsel’s reply brief states, “Like the injunctions in Roberts, the injunctions obtained by the Maryville plaintiffs ‘changed the legal relationship between the congregants and Governor Beshear because they stopped the Governor from enforcing his orders and allowed the congregants to act in ways that he had previously resisted. That is assuredly a material, court-ordered change.’ The Governor’s argument that the injunctions provided no court-ordered, material relief because he voluntarily changed his ways has no merit.”
On Easter Sunday 2020, Kentucky State Police troopers came to Maryville Baptist Church to fulfill Governor Beshear’s threat to target anyone who attended a church service against his worship ban. The church was allowing a small number of people to assemble inside its 700-seat sanctuary, spread far apart, and had also set up speakers in its parking lot for “drive-in” worship. The police wrote down license plate numbers and placed quarantine notices on every car, including those containing people who had come for the drive-in service. All worshippers whose cars were noticed in the parking lot on Easter Sunday also received a letter from Gov. Beshear’s administration demanding their agreement to take their temperatures and report every day to the county health authority, not attend church, work, school, stores, and other public places; not travel outside the county; not travel outside of Kentucky without prior approval; and not travel by public, commercial, or emergency conveyance such as a bus, taxi, airplane, train, or boat without prior approval.
The Sixth Circuit issued two 3-0 decisions in favor of the church’s parking-lot and in-person services. Despite the church’s wins, however, the trial court denied Liberty Counsel’s clients prevailing-party status for attorney’s fees and costs in September 2022. This decision goes against the weight of the legal authorities.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Liberty Counsel secured all the relief sought on behalf of Maryville Baptist Church and is entitled to prevailing party status which includes attorney’s fees and costs. Now churches in Kentucky are free to worship without the intrusion of Governor Andy Beshear since the courts blocked the governor’s unconstitutional restrictions on churches and places of worship.”