By TOM LATEK, Kentucky Today
FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Attorney General Daniel Cameron joined a Kentucky Christian school’s federal lawsuit against Gov. Andy Beshear that says the governor’s ban on in-person classes at religious schools unconstitutional.
Cameron joined Danville Christian Academy, Inc., in asking the court to issue a statewide temporary restraining order against the governor’s latest banning in-person instruction at religious schools.
The lawsuit, filed at U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, states that the Governor’s Nov. 18 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 state’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.
According to Cameron, the order prohibits religious organizations from educating children consistent with and according to their faith.
“The ability to provide and receive a private religious education is a core part of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment,” he said. “Religiously affiliated schools that follow recommended social-distancing guidelines should be allowed to remain open.”
He also added, “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.”
Cameron says according to the governor’s order, every elementary, middle or high school in the state must stop providing in-person instruction on Monday, regardless of whether the school is following social distancing protocols.
He says that Danville Christian Academy, the co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, “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.”
According to Cameron’s statement, “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.
“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?” Cameron asked. “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.”
Crystal Staley, a spokesman for Gov. Beshear's office, issued the following statement:
“The Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Governor has the constitutional authority to issue orders to help save lives. This week, Kentucky has a 9% COVID-19 positivity rate, 112 red zone counties and nearly 10,000 students and staff in quarantine," she said. "Of those, nearly 1,700 tested positive for the virus. This week, we also lost our first student to the virus – a 15-year-old girl from Ballard County – and a teacher. The Governor has followed the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the White House Coronavirus Task Force and public health experts; and many other Governors across the country are taking similar actions to protect the health and lives of children and families. The attorney general should stop playing politics and instead help Kentuckians understand what it takes to defeat this virus.”
No hearing date has been set on the request for the temporary restraining order.