FRANKFORT, Ky. (November 20, 2020) – Attorney General Daniel Cameron today joined Danville Christian Academy, Inc., in filing a lawsuit in federal court against Governor Andy Beshear asking the court to issue a statewide temporary restraining order against the Governor’s latest unconstitutional order banning in-person instruction at religious schools.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, states that the Governor’s November 18, 2020, executive order halting in-person instruction at religious schools violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as Kentucky’s equivalent constitutional guarantees and the Commonwealth’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA).
“The Governor’s school-closure order prohibits religious organizations from educating children consistent with and according to their faith,” said Attorney General Cameron. “The ability to provide and receive a private religious education is a core part of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. Religiously affiliated schools that follow recommended social-distancing guidelines should be allowed to remain open. In August, we issued guidance stating that a closure of religious schools during the pandemic would risk violating the U.S. Constitution and state law. The Governor dismissed the guidance, and he has now forced us to bring a lawsuit to protect the constitutional rights of Kentuckians.”
In August, the Attorney General issued OAG 20-13 finding that the Governor, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and other state or local officials cannot order the closure of religiously affiliated schools that are in compliance with reasonable health guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19. At the time the order was issued, Governor Beshear was asked about it in his daily press briefing and stated, “nobody is trying to close any school that is complying with guidelines in preventing outbreaks.”
However, according to the Governor’s order issued on Wednesday, every elementary, middle, or high school in the Commonwealth must stop providing in-person instruction on Monday, regardless of whether the school is following social distancing protocols. Danville Christian Academy, the co-plaintiff in the lawsuit filed today, has implemented rigorous protocols to safely provide in-person instruction, spending between $20,000 and $30,000 to operationalize a safety plan. The Boyle County Health Department even noted that the school is “doing it right.” Yet, the Governor’s latest order will stop the school from continuing in-person instruction. Schools across the Commonwealth find themselves facing the same dilemma as Danville Christian—spending thousands of dollars and hours of manpower to safely operate schools and then being forced to close despite following the recommended health guidelines and successfully preventing significant outbreaks.
“We continue to hear that the classroom is the safest place for our children during this pandemic,” said House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade. “Our schools have done a tremendous job planning and implementing safety procedures in our school systems and a phenomenal job of keeping our children safe. As we continue to make decisions that will affect hundreds of thousands of Kentucky children and their families, we need to check our emotions at the door and make decisions based on credible facts.”
On the same day the Governor issued the order closing schools, he issued another order allowing venues to continue operating with up to “25 people per room,” the same size as many classrooms across Kentucky. The Governor also continues to permit office and retail operations. It is unclear in the Governor’s orders why he believes it is unsafe for schools to continue operations under the same safety standards.
“If it is safe for individuals to gather in venues, shop in stores, and work in office environments, why is it unsafe for Kentucky schools to continue in-person operations while applying the same safety protocols?” said Attorney General Cameron. “The Governor’s orders are arbitrary and inconsistent when it comes to school closures in Kentucky. We urge the Governor to follow the legal opinions issued earlier this year by multiple federal judges and allow religious schools to continue in-person instruction while following recommended health guidelines.”
To view a copy of today’s filings, click here
. To view the Attorney General’s August opinion on the legality of closing religiously affiliated schools, click here