Maryville Baptist Church and Pastor Jack Roberts filed a federal lawsuit against Governor Andy Beshear for violating their religious freedom by targeting churchgoers on Easter Sunday. Liberty Counsel filed the lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court in Louisville.
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 actually did, dispatching the Kentucky State Police to Maryville Baptist Church on Easter Sunday to issue notices of criminal sanctions and mandatory quarantines, and to record license plates for follow-up enforcement.
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 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.”
The letter requires the recipients to sign a document agreeing to take their temperatures every day at the same time and report each day to the Board of County Health Department; to not attend work, school, or shopping centers, church, or any public place; to not travel outside the county; to not travel outside of Kentucky without prior approval; and to not travel by public, commercial, or emergency conveyance such as a bus, taxi, airplane, train, boat, without prior approval.
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, “Churches have a constitutional right to meet and the First Amendment does not disappear during a crisis. Governor Beshear has clearly targeted this church and violated these church members’ religious freedom. The only reason these people were given notices is because they were in a church parking lot. Had they parked in the nearby shopping center they would not have been targeted. This is clearly Gov. Andy Beshear’s discriminating against churches,” said Staver.