A nonprofit publication of theKentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Federal judge rules Governor Andy Beshear can’t stop in-person classes at private religious schools

By Mark Maynard
Kentucky Today

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a part of Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order requiring private and public schools to stop in-person classes until January infringes on their constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove said the order cannot apply to private, religious-led schools across the state but can remain for public schools. He granted a preliminary injunction to 17 private Christian schools that had filed a lawsuit against Beshear’s emergency restriction.

Danville Christian Academy in Boyle County. (Danville Christian Academy Facebook photo)

“The governor is enjoined from enforcing the prohibition on in-person instruction with respect to any religious private school in Kentucky that adheres to applicable social distancing and hygiene guidelines,” Van Tatenhove wrote in the order.

Danville Christian Academy in Boyle County and Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed their lawsuit against Beshear 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.

The suit said Beshear’s executive order violates the First Amendment as well as the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Danville school was represented by attorneys from Texas-based First Liberty Institute who asked why in-person classes should have to stop when religious-based schools are connected to churches that can keep having in-person worship services.

The govenor recommended, but did not mandate, that churches not meet in-person until Dec. 13.

Van Tatenhove’s ruling comes two weeks after the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously upheld Beshear’s right to issue executive orders in a public health emergency.

Last week, Beshear issued new executive orders until Dec. 13 for schools, restaurants, bars, gyms, offices, indoor gatherings, weddings and funerals.

Elementary schools not in “red” counties, which average 25 or more new daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents, can resume in-person classes Dec. 7 as long as they follow the state’s “Healthy At School” guidance, according to Beshear’s order.


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