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Reopen churches to in-person services or face legal action, AG says

By TOM LATEK

Kentucky Today

FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – Attorney General Daniel Cameron is calling upon Gov. Andy Beshear to reopen churches to in-person services or face legal action.

During a Tuesday press conference outside the Capitol, Cameron said, “The Governor should allow churches to resume in-person services, consistent with the (U.S.) Constitution and CDC guidelines.  And if he doesn’t, we will be forced to file a lawsuit and allow a judge to determine whether his order, as it pertains to religious groups, is constitutional.”

On March 19, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Beshear issued an order banning all mass gatherings in an effort to halt the spread of the virus.

Those included any event or convening that bring together groups of individuals, including, but not limited to, community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers; and similar activities.

Cameron said he sees the ban as a violation of the First Amendment, as it pertains to freedom of religion.  “Simply put, the current prohibition against in-person church services, is, in the view of this office, unconstitutional.”

“I’m reminded of this every time I drive by a big box store and see dozens of cars.  I’m also reminded of this every time I read that the Governor has ordered law enforcement to record the license plates of people who simply want to worship.  Churches deserve equal treatment commensurate with their First Amendment rights.”

However, Cameron declared, “Lest there be any confusion, I’m not here today to advocate that churches resume in-person services immediately.  I believe the good Lord gives us wisdom and judgment.  We should use it in such a way as to protect our fellow Kentuckians.  I personally enjoy the online services offered by my church and applaud all faith leaders for their creativity and adaptability over the past several weeks.”

He said he has faith that Kentucky’s religious leaders will listen to health care experts on when is the appropriate time to resume in-person services.  “When they do so, I know they will be responsible.”

The attorney general noted that governments should explain the differences between orders and recommendations when it comes to restrictions and eliminate confusion when a local government has a different restriction than the state.

An example of that is Gov. Beshear allowing drive-in church services, while Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer issued an order banning them.

Cameron also announced his office will continue to support the First Amendment rights of Kentuckians in two ongoing federal court cases, Maryville v. Beshear and Roberts v. Beshear, by filing amicus briefs, also known as friend of the court briefs.  Both cases question the constitutionality of Gov. Beshear’s executive order banning faith-based mass gatherings.

Dr. Todd Gray, executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, of which Kentucky Today is a part, had this reaction to Cameron’s statements:

“Many have been concerned about the infringement of religious liberties from March 11 when Gov. Beshear singled out churches in banning in-person gatherings, while other groups remained open, and then later with his comments about taking license plate numbers from those in church parking lots.
“If the governor rescinds his order prohibiting in-person services, I feel confident Kentucky Baptists will continue to practice safe social distancing even as they hold gatherings. Our church leaders care deeply about the well-being of their church members and will want to hold worship gatherings that demonstrate that care.

“While Kentucky Baptists church leaders have sought to be respectful of our government leaders, many have expressed concerns about their religious liberties.
“I am grateful for AG Cameron taking up this cause and advocating for the religious liberties of Kentucky’s faith communities. This issue is not personal for him, it is constitutional.”