Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, along with a Christian private school in Danville, have sued Gov. Andy Beshear for his order that private schools temporarily stop in-person classes.
The suit, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, alleges that the governor has violated the constitution with his recent COVID-19 restrictions, specifically the mandate that all public and private schools do remote learning for the next few weeks.
Danville Christian Academy, Inc., which teaches preschool through 12th grade, is the co-plaintiff on the lawsuit.
“The Governor’s school-closure order prohibits religious organizations from educating children consistent with and according to their faith,” Cameron wrote in a press release. “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.”
Cameron also joined a lawsuit seeking to clarify whether Beshear had the power to issue restrictions through executive order after he ordered “healthy at home” measures in March. The Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously ruled he did have that power, and that it was particularly necessary in a public health crisis.
At Wednesday’s briefing, during which he announced new restrictions that also affect businesses like bars, restaurants, gyms and venues, Beshear said these were difficult choices.
“I can tell you none of them are going to be popular,” he said of the new rules. “Now’s the time we make the decision on whether we are going to let our fellow Kentuckians become sick and more of them die, or we’re going to take a stand against the third wave of this virus. These restrictions are necessary now.”
The same day the suit was filed, Beshear announced another record-high number of new cases: 3,825 confirmed new infections, and 20 new deaths.
In August, Cameron issued an opinion that forbidding in-person education at a religious school following hygiene and social distancing recommendations would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution, and of Kentucky 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 said in the release.
Cameron also noted that, while schools were closed to in-person learning, venues could still operate with 25 people or less “per room” under the governor’s latest COVID restrictions.
“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 wrote. “The Governor’s orders are arbitrary and inconsistent when it comes to school closures in Kentucky.”
In his Friday press release, Beshear said the skyrocketing numbers is why his administration has implemented new restrictions.
“We’ve got more than 10,000 students quarantined right now just based on the last two weeks alone. We’ve got to do so much better,” Beshear said. “Remember, your decisions are going to be what determines how many people live or die. Do your part.”
Crystal Staley, Beshear’s communications director, said the Kentucky Supreme Court already ruled that Beshear “has the constitutional authority to issue orders to help save lives.”
“The attorney general should stop playing politics and instead help Kentuckians understand what it takes to defeat this virus,” Staley said.
She noted that many states are taking similar precautions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.