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Liberty Counsel filed a 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 unlawful lockdown restrictions against the church and its pastor. On Easter Sunday 2020, Gov. Beshear sent law enforcement to issue citations to people parked in their cars who came to listen to an Easter message broadcast on speakers.

In the brief, Liberty Counsel states that Maryville Baptist Church and its pastor are the prevailing parties in the case because the church and the pastor won an emergency injunction pending appeal from the Sixth Circuit and a preliminary injunction from the lower district court allowing them to assemble and complete 40 consecutive Sunday worship services free from the governor’s worship ban prior to the Republican General Assembly’s passing legislation curbing the governor’s emergency powers. As a result, Liberty Counsel’s clients are the prevailing parties and should be entitled to attorney’s fees and costs.

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.

Yet on that same Easter Sunday, the parking lots of stores and other commercial operations within minutes of the church were packed with cars. These businesses were jammed with people. Not one person received a quarantine notice.

In May 2020, Liberty Counsel won injunctions from the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and lower district court prohibiting the governor from enforcing his worship ban against the church’s parking lot and in-person worship services. The governor’s March 2020 executive orders enjoined by the courts had previously prohibited ALL religious worship services, while allowing many secular group activities. The executive orders clearly targeted religious services for discriminatory treatment. For example, under the orders, a church could gather to feed, shelter, and provide social services to an unlimited number of people, but religious worship services were banned in the same building where the non-religious gatherings could be held.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has already 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, “Governor Andy Beshear may not violate the First Amendment without any consequences. The courts blocked the governor’s unconstitutional restrictions on churches and places of worship. Liberty Counsel secured all the relief sought on behalf of Maryville Baptist Church and is entitled to prevailing party status.”

Author: Liberty Counsel


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