by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read
Update: District Court grants injunction on behalf of FLI’s client — Learn More
With restrictions and lockdowns being reinstated across the country, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the battle for religious freedom during this pandemic is far from over.
Last week, First Liberty Institute and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed for a temporary restraining order against Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear seeking to block his order prohibiting private schools, including religious schools, from holding in-person classes after Thanksgiving.
First Liberty represents Danville Christian Academy (DCA) in Danville, Kentucky in the lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.
As part of its religious mission, DCA provides pre-K through 12th grade classes at its facility, and like many schools, they’ve gone to great lengths to ensure they meet the necessary safety guidelines when reopening.
Prior to the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, DCA collaborated with local health officials and consultants—including three medical doctors, among others—to plan the reopening and operation of the school and the safe return of its students and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. DCA’s reopening and operational plan were approved by the director of the Boyle County Health Department, who stated repeatedly that he approved of DCA’s plan and that DCA is “doing it right.”
However, even with all of the precautionary measures that DCA is taking, Governor Beshear’s Executive Order (EO) 2020-969 prohibited all public and private schools from meeting in-person beginning November 23, and contained no accommodations for religious education. On the same day, Governor Beshear issued a separate EO, 2020-968, that permits secular establishments like restaurants, bars, fitness centers, and indoor recreation facilities to continue operating at limited capacity.
The Governor’s orders also permit venues, event spaces, and theaters to continue operating with a maximum of 25 people per room.
Of great concern to many people of faith and religious institutions is that this newest set of restrictions isn’t the first time Governor Beshear has imposed limits on religious gatherings that are blatantly unconstitutional.
In fact, First Liberty has fought on the frontlines in the state of Kentucky three different times since the start of the pandemic—and our attorneys have secured victories to reclaim religious freedom in each of those previous legal battles.
Earlier this year, First Liberty attorneys secured a victory for On Fire Christian Church in the city of Louisville. By helping that congregation reclaim its right to host CDC compliant drive-in church services, this became the seminal and first major legal triumph in defense of churches and religious liberty during the current health crisis.
Indeed, our Louisville victory was the “first legal shot heard across the country”—making it clear that permanent restrictions on religious freedom will never be tolerated as long as First Liberty has anything to say about it.
In another major triumph, First Liberty won a victory on behalf of Tabernacle Baptist Church of Nicholasville, challenging the Governor’s executive orders that prohibited in-person church services and threatened them with criminal penalties.
In that case, a federal judge issued a decision allowing gatherings with respect to any in-person religious service, as long as the people gathered comply with social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
This pioneering win for religious freedom marked the first legal victory setting a precedent and federal statewide injunction to protect the right of churches and people of faith to resume gathering in-person.
Lastly, as the nation began the process of reopening a few months ago, First Liberty intervened on behalf of our client Ken Ham, CEO of the Answers in Genesis ministry, who announced his plan to reopen the faith-based Ark Encounter museum in early June. Our intervention helped secure a significant win for religious institutions to safely open their doors, as many secular businesses were also doing.
Following President Trump’s remarks declaring houses of worship essential, Governor Beshear eased restrictions to allow attractions and museums (including the Ark) to reopen.
Even with the incredible success and victories we’ve secured throughout this unprecedented time, we must continue to be vigilant against the all-out attacks from government bureaucrats who seek to abuse their power to lock down our churches, schools and even private religious gatherings.
There’s no mistaking the fight for religious liberty is THE most essential fight of our lifetime. This is a battle not only to protect our First Freedom, but to protect America’s entire constitutional system.