Last night, Maryville Baptist Church and Pastor Jack Roberts asked the federal court of appeals to block Gov. Andy Beshear from enforcing his “no religious services” orders on churches. Liberty Counsel has filed the motion asking the court of appeals for an injunction pending the appeal.
Today, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed a compelling amicus brief in support of Liberty Counsel’s lawsuit against Governor Beshear, stating: “The Court should enter an injunction pending appeal ‘to prevent irreparable harm.’”
The AG’s brief states, “The freedom to practice one’s faith is a defining feature of American liberty… But in the wake of executive orders shutting down in-person worship services in Kentucky in response to the Covid-19 crisis, this guarantee is on shaky ground. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has allowed certain secular activities to continue in Kentucky if social distancing guidelines are followed, but has refused the same treatment for religious entities. Pandemic or not, the Constitution prohibits the targeting of religious exercise for disfavored treatment.”
The AG’s brief states that Gov. Beshear’s March 19 and March 25 orders issued do “not permit religious organizations to provide religious services to their parishioners and members” and “impose a sweeping prohibition against religious activity throughout every corner of the Commonwealth…despite the First Amendment and Kentucky’s own uniquely strong protections for religious liberty.” The governor “has failed to adopt neutral or generally applicable laws to address the current crisis, instead choosing to target religious organizations for disfavored treatment. It is, ‘beyond all reason,’ unconstitutional” (emphasis added).
The AG also pointed out that “the point of the First Amendment is that Governor Beshear does not get to decide whether a virtual gathering is sufficient for every person of every faith. On this issue, Governor Beshear has gone remarkably far in dictating how Kentuckians should exercise their religion.”
On Easter Sunday, Kentucky State Police troopers came to Maryville Baptist Church, wrote down license plate numbers, and placed notices on every car in the church parking lot. The church set up speakers outside for a parking lot service. The state troopers did not go inside the church where a small number of people were spread far apart in a 700-seat sanctuary. Following Gov. Beshear’s threat to target anyone who attended a church service, they placed quarantine notices on each car, including those where people stayed in their cars for the drive-in parking lot service. Anyone who did not drive off were given notices, including two media vehicles.
On Thursday, anyone whose car was in the parking lot on Easter Sunday received a letter from Gov. Beshear that stated, in part: “You are receiving this letter because your vehicle was documented to have been parked where a mass gathering was held on Sunday, April 12, 2020 at Maryville Baptist Church.… If you and/or someone in your household attended the above gathering, following the guidance from the Kentucky Department for Public Health, you are advised to restrict movement to home while self-monitoring with public health supervision for 14 days from attending the mass gathering.”
On that same Sunday, the parking lots of Kroger, Walmart, liquors stores and other commercial operations within minutes of the church were packed with cars. These businesses were jammed with people. Not one received a quarantine notice. Gov. Beshear targeted churchgoers parked in a church parking lot to intimidate and isolate them.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Gov. Andy Beshear has clearly discriminated churches throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky. While allowing liquor stores and commercial operations to meet without restrictions, the governor’s orders do not permit any religious service no matter the size or social distancing. Churches have a constitutional right to meet. The First Amendment does not disappear during a crisis.”