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Kentucky Church Under Fire After Governor Enforces Lockdown Over Easter

John Caleb Maddox of Nelson County came to the Maryville Baptist Church to worship while wearing a hat that read 'Trump. Keep America Great!' A federal judge Saturday night denied Maryville Baptist Church’s motion for a restraining order blocking enforcement of Gov. Andy Beshear’s order barring faith-based mass gatherings. April 19, 2020

Monday, 20 April 2020

A Kentucky church is suing Governor Andy Beshear for enforcing his anti-gathering orders against its congregation on Easter Sunday.

On Good Friday, Beshear, a Democrat, issued a press release stating that “Kentucky State Police will be recording the license plate numbers of any vehicle seen at” in-person church services, after which “local health officials” would require the owners to “self-quarantine for 14 days.”

Despite the fact that the very next day a federal judge enjoined the mayor of Louisville from enforcing Beshear’s orders against a drive-in service at On Fire Christian Center, Beshear proceeded to have state police appear at the Maryville Baptist Church on Easter and not only record the license plate numbers of all cars in the parking lot but also place a notice on each carinforming the owner that the occupants of the car were in violation of Beshear’s orders.

According to the lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Louisville, Maryville Baptist held an in-person Easter service in its 700-seat sanctuary, which only a few people, who practiced social distancing, attended.

Most congregants remained in their cars, listening to the service on outdoor loudspeakers. Nevertheless, police posted notices on every car in the parking lot, regardless of whether it was occupied, including vehicles belonging to members of the media, who are supposedly exempt from Beshear’s orders.

Governor Andy Beshear for enforcing his anti-gathering orders
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“Kentucky State Police did not enter the church building at Maryville Baptist Church, did not verify that any occupant of any car in the parking lot was actually inside the church building, and did not witness the social distancing and hygiene practices employed by Maryville Baptist Church inside its building on Easter Sunday,” reads the complaint. “The Kentucky State Police placed its notice on cars in the church’s parking lot solely because it was a parking lot associated with their targeted religious gathering.”

Owners of the offending cars received a follow-up letter advising them to self-quarantine for 14 days following the service.

“The mandatory quarantine letter,” says the suit, “purports to require each member of the household to sign an acknowledgement of the mandatory requirements of the quarantine, including reporting a daily temperature reading to the Bullitt County Health Department, not going to work, school, church, or any public place, and not traveling outside Kentucky or Bullitt County without government approval — all on pain of enforcement actions by ‘public health authorities.’”

The plaintiffs in the case, who are being represented by Christian legal organization Liberty Counsel, argue that they “have been explicitly targeted, singled out, and punished for participating in a religious or ‘faith-based’ gathering”at the same time as other large gatherings in supermarkets and liquor stores were permitted to occur.

Indeed, Beshear’s actions — issuing the press release and then ignoring the judge’s finding that his orders are unconstitutional — make it clear that he was out to get Easter churchgoers.

The plaintiffs also charge that they “have been stigmatized and subjected to adverse employment action … including immediate furlough” as a result of Beshear’s enforcement actions.

They argue that Beshear’s orders are unconstitutional for a variety of reasons.

First, they interfere with people’s rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and religion, and they violate the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

They also constitute the creation and suspension of law by the governor, yet the Kentucky constitution grants such powers only to the legislature, and the U.S. Constitution guarantees each state “a republican form of government,” which precludes executive law-tampering.

“Churches have a constitutional right to meet and the First Amendment does not disappear during a crisis,” Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Matt Staver said in a press release. “Governor Beshear has clearly targeted this church and violated these church members’ religious freedom.”

The plaintiffs asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order preventing Beshear from enforcing his orders against churchgoers and ultimately to declare the orders unconstitutional.

Beshear told the Lexington Herald-Leader Saturday he is “not concerned about the lawsuit,” and perhaps his optimism is justified: That same day, a federal judge denied the restraining order request.

Even if the church’s lawsuit fails, though, Beshear isn’t out of the woods. Three Maryville Baptist congregants are separately suing him over the same incident.


Michael Tennant is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The New American.

UPDATE

Judge denies Maryville Baptist Church’s bid to block Gov. Beshear’s coronavirus order


Maryville Baptist pastor Jack Roberts says “I don’t want anybody to get sick” but thinks some doctors have an agenda. Louisville Courier Journal

A federal judge Saturday night denied Maryville Baptist Church’s motion for a restraining order blocking enforcement of Gov. Andy Beshear’s order barring faith-based mass gatherings.

Church members gathered again anyway Sunday. But this time, no state troopers showed up outside to issue notices.

Sitting in his vehicle outside the church, the Rev. Jack Roberts reiterated that he doesn’t want anybody to get sick. But, he added, “most of these doctors have an agenda of their own.”

“The governor (made) the wrong decision. I mean, that’s all I can tell ya,” Roberts said. “The governor can’t make laws.”

The church filed a lawsuit Friday saying that enforcement of the order discriminates against their rights under the First Amendment and the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act by prohibiting “mass gatherings” that are “faith-based.”

But U.S. District Judge David Hale said that Beshear’s order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 bans all mass gatherings — “i.e., any event or convening that brings together groups of individuals, including civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events as well as concerts, festivals and conventions.”

For that reason, Hale said it doesn’t discriminate against religion.

[This story is being provided for free to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to The Courier Journal at courier-journal.com/subscribe/. ]

In a seven-page opinion, he also noted that other forms of group worship are permitted, such as drive-in, online, video or telephone conferencing and radio and TV broadcasts.

The Maryville church, which has defied the governor’s order, argued it is nonetheless discriminatory because it allows people to go through drive-in liquor stores and to shop for groceries.

Read this: Kentucky pastor who held in-person Easter service won’t self-quarantine for coronavirus

Earlier: Church that held controversial in-person Easter service despite warnings sues Beshear

But Hale said those are “transitory” activities, unlike a congregation gathering communally in a church. He said “a more apt comparison” is gathering in a restaurant or entertainment venue, which are prohibited under Beshear’s order.

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