Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed a compelling amicus brief in support of Liberty Counsel’s federal lawsuit, on behalf of Maryville Baptist Church and Pastor Jack Roberts, against Governor Andy Beshear for violating their religious freedom by targeting churchgoers on Easter Sunday and banning religious services.
AG Cameron’s amicus brief strongly addresses Governor Beshear’s March 19 and March 25 executive orders issued that “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).
Governor Beshear banned Kentuckians from participating in all religious services of any kind, and he has refused to define religious activity as “life-sustaining” for those residents with sincerely held beliefs about communal worship. The brief also states, “What does Governor Beshear consider life-sustaining? Media, is one example, which he defines as, newspapers, television, radio, and other media services. Also included on the list are law firms, accounting services, real estate companies, liquor stores, and hardware stores, but not churches, synagogues, or mosques. These restrictions apply no matter how large the gathering might be, no matter where the people might get together, and regardless of whether they practice safe social-distancing and good hygiene. This is unconstitutional. But it does not have to be this way. The freedom to practice one’s faith is a defining feature of American liberty.” (emphasis added).
The brief states, “Governor Beshear has offered no explanation as to why it is necessary to prohibit religious activities that pose exactly the same risk as similar, non-religious activities.”
On the Saturday between Governor Beshear’s Good Friday threats and Easter Sunday enforcement actions, a federal court enjoined the mayor of Louisville from “enforcing, attempting to enforce, threatening to enforce, or otherwise requiring compliance with any prohibition on drive-in church services at On Fire.” The court issued the restraining order because the mayor threatened churches with criminal enforcement of Gov. Beshear’s COVID-19 orders. There, the mayor said that he would “use the police to deter and disburse” religious gatherings, had requested that the police “record license plates of all vehicles in attendance,” and threatened that individuals would be contacted by public health officials informing them to self-quarantine under the threat of criminal sanction. The court found that such threats and actions were unconstitutional because the government “may not ban its citizens from worshipping.” The court admonished, “Louisville ought not to view the limits of this injunction as a green light to violate the religious liberty of non-parties.”
What the mayor of Louisville only threatened to do, and the federal court enjoined as unconstitutional under the First Amendment, Gov. Beshear did by dispatching the Kentucky State Police to Maryville Baptist Church on Easter Sunday to issue notices of mandatory quarantines, and to record license plates for follow-up enforcement.
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.
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.”
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Kentucky Attorney General Cameron understands that the First Amendment does not disappear during a crisis. Governor Beshear has clearly discriminated against every church in the Commonwealth and violated the First Amendment and Kentucky law.”