Andy Beshear Continues to Try to Restrict Freedom of Religion

As we previously noted, federal Judge Gregory van Tatenhove ruled, in Danville Christian Academy v Beshear, that Governor Andy Beshear’s (D-KY) executive order closing all Kindergarten through grade 12 schools in the Commonwealth cannot be applied to private religious schools.

The Catholic bishops in Kentucky were not part of that lawsuit, and have decided to go along with the Governor’s order. The parochial schools had opened on time this year, ignoring Mr Beshear’s request that in-person instruction in schools be delayed until September 28th. The bishops had earlier declined the Governor’s request — not order — that churches close down for three weeks.

But Governor Beshear, in his determination that his Führerbefehle not be denied, has done what he said he would do, and appealed the decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals:

Lexington Christian Academy plans to open Monday. Beshear appeals judge’s ruling.

By Valarie Honeycutt Spears and Jack Brammer | November 27, 2020 | 4:37 PM EST | Updated: November 28, 2020 | 12:06 AM EST

Lexington Christian Academy will open on Monday as a result of a federal court ruling allowing in-person instruction at Kentucky faith-based schools despite an order to close from Gov. Andy Beshear.

But Beshear is fighting to keep the Lexington school and others in the state closed to keep COVID-19 from spreading.

The Democratic governor has filed an emergency 45-page appeal with U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati of U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove’s decision Wednesday to grant a preliminary injunction to 17 private Christian schools that had filed against a lawsuit against Beshear’s restriction to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to that, several other religious schools that filed another federal lawsuit against the Governor, filing an amicus on behalf of the schools that initially sued Mr Beshear. That suit is also attempting to overturn the Governor’s order restricting indoor gatherings to no more than eight people, from two different households. I am happy to inform you that while our Thanksgiving dinner did have fewer than eight people, the two household limit was exceeded. No Governor, no President, no one at all has any authority to say that I cannot associate with whomever I choose, in whatever numbers we decide.

The Herald-Leader story stated that the responses to the Governor’s appeal must have been filed by 10:00 AM EST.

Churches have won in part and lost in part in their challenges to the Governor’s orders at the Sixth Circuit. Facially, unlike the recent Supreme Court decision in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v Cuomo, the Governor is not treating private or religious schools any differently than public schools; he ordered them all to close. Due to this, it is quite possible that Governor Beshear will win his appeal. The Sixth Circuit, in partially rejecting the Governor’s orders last May, did not go as far as the appellants had requested, to allow in-person church services rather than drive-in only services, saying:

The breadth of the ban on religious services, together with a haven for numerous secular exceptions, should give pause to anyone who prizes religious freedom. But it’s not always easy to decide what is Caesar’s and what is God’s — and that’s assuredly true in the context of a pandemic.

However, it should be noted that the Governor’s great concern for K-12 students isn’t quite as extensive as it appears. On Friday night, the state high school football playoffs continued. If you are an offensive guard, you will have a defensive lineman lined up across from you, his face and yours, both unmasked, just inches apart. When the ball is snapped, you will get really up close and personal, exerting yourselves, exhaling through your mouth. Social distancing is not a part of football.

If you are a quarterback or running back or receiver, the defense will be doing everything it can to hit you, to get right up into your face, to break up the blocking or tackle the runner.

If it is so very, very vital that physical contact be limited, face masks be worn, and social distancing be observed, to reduce the spread of COVID-19, why would Mr Beshear have allowed the playoffs to continue? Apparently the Governor’s concerns about the spread of the virus do not go so far as to cancel football.

Pre-kindergarten instruction has been allowed to continue, even though children that young cannot be anywhere close to as responsible as older ones to observe COVID-19 restrictions. And the state’s colleges and universities have been allowed to remain open, despite most students living away from home and parental guidance. I have previously noted, the ‘authorities’ have been very, very surprised that college students returning to college campuses have had college parties. 🙂

I would not speculate on how the Sixth Circuit might rule, but I hope that they will rule for the free exercise of religion and the right of the people peacefully to assemble.
Updated: Sunday, November 29, 2020 | 10:30 AM EST

Sadly, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Governor Beshear:

Federal appellate court agrees with Beshear’s order to close all Kentucky schools

By Jack Brammer and Valarie Honeycutt Spears | November 29, 2020 | 10:14 AM EST

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear was successful Sunday in getting a federal appellate court to side with him in his order to close religious schools and others in the state during a surge in the coronavirus pandemic.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati granted the Democratic governor’s request to shelve temporarily a judge’s ruling that would have allowed 17 private Christian schools to reopen. Those schools filed a lawsuit over Beshear’s restrictions and won a preliminary injunction Wednesday from U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove. . . . .

But the three-member appellate court said Sunday that Van Tatenholve’s preliminary injunction should not have been entered because the schools are unlikely to succeed.

The appellate court said it is likely to rule that Beshear’s order was “neutral and of general applicability” in that all schools were affected.

Given that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v Cuomo was largely based on the disparate and harsher treatment of churches, there was room for the Sixth Circuit to rule as it did. This might be appealed to the Supreme Court, but with an appellate court ruling that the treatment of religious schools was no different than the treatment of secular ones, the Court would have to decide the case on the constitutional grounds of a restriction on the free exercise of religion and the right of peaceable assembly. Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion was heavily based on the disparate treatment of churches, not freedom of religion, so his vote could be lost. Justice Samuel Alito’s recent statements indicate that he would vote in favor of a constitutional argument, but this is a case in which freedom of religion and assembly could lose to the statists.
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