Coronavirus

Kentucky Lawsuit Seeks to Exempt Religious Gatherings From Stay-at-Home Order

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A religious liberty law firm filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Kentucky governor Andy Beshear (D.) arguing that in-person religious services should be among those allowed during the stay-at-home order.

First Liberty Institute requested a temporary stay of Beshear's order on behalf of Tabernacle Baptist Church of Nicholasville, Ky. The suit argues that the order allows indoor gatherings under specific circumstances, such as mass transit or shopping centers, but excludes religious gatherings.

The administration "allowed indoor gatherings to occur in numerous, specifically-enumerated circumstances so long as social distancing precautions are observed," the suit states, claiming that excluding religious services places a "substantial burden" on religious exercise.

The church is committed to following the Centers for Disease Control's guidance on social distancing during services, according to the suit. It adds that Jessamine County, where the church is located, has also not reported a significant number of coronavirus cases.

Like many other states, Kentucky is preparing to lift restrictions in the coming weeks. The first wave of businesses, including construction companies and office-based businesses, may open with limited capacity on May 11, followed by more businesses on May 20 and May 25.

Beshear addressed religious gatherings at a press conference Wednesday, urging caution on reintroducing large crowds at religious observances.

"Just because you can, on May 20, doesn't mean that you're ready," Beshear said. He said that faith leaders should make sure they have had enough time to communicate with their congregations about the safety of religious services.

Beshear added that his administration would be issuing guidance early next week on having larger gatherings.

"The Constitution forbids the government from burdening churches with restrictions that are not imposed on other entities," said Roger Byron, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute. "The fundamental rights of religious Americans who seek to abide by the public health guidelines during this pandemic may not be singled out for onerous restrictions."

Stay-at-home orders are seeing more legal challenges as states begin to gradually reopen their economies. Two Wisconsin citizens filed a lawsuit against the state's Democratic governor arguing the lockdown order violated constitutional rights to religious practice and assembly.