FRANKFORT, Ky (October 22, 2020) – Kentucky State Treasurer Allison Ball testified before the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary Thursday morning, presenting her findings of unconstitutional actions by the Governor’s Administration related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ball testified with Noah Friend, General Counsel of the Office of the State Treasurer. Treasurer Ball revealed multiple instances of targeted enforcement of restrictions against churches and religious activity violating First Amendment protections.
“As State Treasurer, I have an obligation to see that state expenditures are spent constitutionally. In counties across the Commonwealth, we found numerous examples of directives by the Governor’s Administration to local health departments and police to monitor and report under threat of criminal penalties for Kentuckians attending worship services,” Treasurer Ball said. “Religious communities are not asking for special treatment, the Administration is required by the Constitution to give them equal protection. That has not been done.”
Among the findings Treasurer Ball disclosed to the Committee:
- The Governor’s Office, Kentucky State Police, and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services encouraged and participated in the unconstitutional suppression of First Amendment exercise;
- The administration took actions directly related to assemblies, including directing law enforcement to monitor and shut down religious services in multiple counties;
- These actions were consistently followed by threats of criminal prosecution for failure to comply by law enforcement;
- The direct targeting of religious activity was furthered in the governor’s direct contact with county judges-executive asking them to monitor and enforce these measures at churches in their communities;
- License plate numbers and personal identifying information were recorded at church gatherings by law enforcement; the scouted information was then given to local health departments who issued self-quarantining demands to the church congregants, notifying the congregants that their activity was a misdemeanor violation;
- Law enforcement were instructed to take action against church congregants for “failure to disperse,” directed actions included possible misdemeanor violations and even arrest when they deemed it necessary in the surveillance of church gatherings;
- Physical enforcement was listed as a permissible measure to be taken if warranted in some cases to ensure church closure or prohibition of gathering;
- “Uniformed officers” were visibly present at or near parking lot entrances where congregants were worshiping;
- Dr. Stephen Stack, Commissioner of the Department of Public Health, told a local health department official, “Sigh. No cure for ignorance or obstinacy,” in response to notification that congregants in a church had implemented a limited sign-up availability and socially-distanced seating plan for attending worship to prevent contagion; and
- Despite intense scrutiny of places of worship and enforcement against their assembly as directed by the Governor’s administration, the Kentucky Department for Public Health found only 1.1% of positive COVID-19 contractions came from places of worship:
- As of June 26, 2020 – 170 cases out of 14,859 were shown to be tied to places of worship.
Treasurer Ball looked into communications from local health departments, Kentucky State Police, and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services in response to complaints of enforcement at churches. The Kentucky State Treasurer has the authority and obligation to ensure all governmental expenditures are permitted under the Constitutions and laws of the United States and Kentucky.