A lawsuit against Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order closing local schools may be going to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Monday, Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced he was filing an emergency application for the Supreme Court to hear the case. Danville Christian Academy in Boyle County, the religious law group First Liberty Institute and Cameron filed the suit on Nov. 20 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky to seek a statewide temporary restraining order for the ban on in-person classes. So far, 1,500 Kentucky parents and 20 religious schools have filed briefs supporting the lawsuit, according to a press release.
On Nov. 18, the governor ordered the closing of all schools regardless of any religious affiliations through the end of the semester. The only exception was for elementary schools in counties outside the red zone, which may reopen Dec. 7 if the school follows all guidelines.
That order was struck down by a U.S. District Court judge. However, that ruling was overturned upon appeal. Cameron then filed to go to the Supreme Court, which ruled last week that a New York limit on attendance at churches, synagogues and other houses of worship violated the First Amendment.
The lawsuit argues that a religious education is a core part of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment, and the governor’s order is unconstitutional.
“Kentuckians have a First Amendment right to exercise their faith through a religious education, and we maintain that the Governor is clearly infringing upon that right by closing religious schools,” Cameron said in a press release. “The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that religious institutions cannot be treated different than secular activities, and we are asking the court to simply apply the same analysis to the Governor’s disparate treatment of religious schools and other secular activities. We’re committed to pursuing every available option to protect the constitutional rights of Kentuckians, and today’s filing with the Supreme Court is the next step.”
When asked about the lawsuit at a briefing last week, Gov. Beshear noted more than 10,000 children across the commonwealth had to quarantine over the last few weeks.
“We’re not treating any school differently. We’re treating them all the same,” he said.
This is not the first time Cameron and Beshear have squared off in court over the governor’s actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In November, the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld Beshear’s right to issue executive orders in a public health emergency.
Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to spread locally and across the country. According to the Kentucky Department of Public Health’s map, both Mercer County and Boyle County are in the red zone.
The incidence rate was 66.4 per 100,000 for Mercer and 71.3 per 100,000 for Boyle County on Monday. That rate is calculated by taking the total number of unique cases in each county over the past seven days, divided by seven to get a daily average, dividing by the U.S. census bureau county population and multiplying by 100,000.
According to the Mercer County Health Department’s Facebook post on Monday, 57 new cases were added over the weekend, raising the number of current cases to 168. Seven of the cases are in children under the age of 18. Mercer has averaged more than 14 new cases per day over the last week, according to the health department.
In their Facebook post, the health department kept it simple: “If you’re sick—stay home. Please.”