Kentucky AG files restraining order against governor to block religious school closures

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Kentucky's attorney general is suing his own governor in an attempt to keep private religious schools open, despite the state ordering virtual classes during the coronavirus pandemic.

An emergency hearing took place on Monday after Attorney General Daniel Cameron and the First Liberty Institute filed a petition seeking a temporary restraining order on Gov. Andy Beshear. In the petition, Cameron argued that Beshear's latest executive order infringed on Danville Christian Academy's and other religious schools' constitutional freedoms.

“Governor Beshear continues to impose limits on religious gatherings that are blatantly unconstitutional,” said Roger Byron, senior counsel at First Liberty, which represents the Christian academy.

He added that "[t]he CDC made it clear that one of the safest locations’ students can be at during the pandemic is in school. The court should reject Governor Beshear’s order and follow the CDC and the law.”

Others, like UNICEF, have warned about the impact that closures have on the lives of children. Last week, the United Nation's agency said evidence showed "the net benefits of keeping schools open outweigh the costs of closing them." 

Beshear's executive order, which was issued last week, argued that the state was "experiencing a potentially catastrophic surge in COVID-19 cases" and that Kentucky law granted him the authority to close all public and private schools for grades K-12. While it's unclear how the court will rule, the executive order mandated that virtual instruction begin Monday.

The lawsuit was just one in a series around the country that raised questions about how much authorities could limit constitutional freedoms when declaring a public health crisis. Other jurisdictions like New York City have also announced shutdowns as the country saw a surge in cases.

On Sunday, Beshear's office reported the highest number of daily COVID-19  cases for a Sunday on record. 

“I wish more than anything that we could go back to normal safely, but we can’t," Beshear said. "In order to protect our only line of health care workers and all of our fellow Kentuckians, keep gatherings small (eight people or fewer and two households at most), wear a mask, wash your hands and stay six feet apart."

The governor added: “If we have a major surge of COVID-19 cases after Thanksgiving, our hospitals will simply not have the capacity to give everyone the care they need. Nothing is worth that risk.”

The Courier-Journal reported Beshear's spokesperson Crystal Staley referred to a previous decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court, which unanimously upheld Beshear's power to issue executive orders during the pandemic.

First Liberty, which represents clients around the country, noted that it obtained a temporary restraining order on a coronavirus related case earlier this year on behalf of Tabernacle Baptist Church of Nicholasville, Kentucky.

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