Despite other rulings, Nicholasville church sues over state order

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NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. (WTVQ) – Saying the ban on in-person gatherings as it applies to churches doesn’t meet “the Lord’s requirements,” a Nicholasville church has sued Gov. Andy Beshear over the ban.

But speaking during his daily briefing Wednesday, Beshear said the issues have been addressed in three different court rulings and churches who are ready and can meet health standards will be able to open May 20.

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Attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday and a motion for a temporary restraining order in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky on behalf of Tabernacle Baptist Church of Nicholasville, challenging Beshear’s orders that prohibit in-person church services and threaten criminal penalties.

“Governor Beshear’s orders unlawfully target religious worship and violate the First Amendment,” said Roger Byron, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute.  “The Constitution forbids the government from burdening churches with restrictions that are not imposed on other entities. 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.”

As courts have ruled, the state’s order did not specifically target churches. In addition, the order did not prevent worship, allowing alternatives ranging from virtual services via technology to drive-up services.

Churches like Tabernacle Baptist stopped holding in-person religious services after a March 19, 2020 order by Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, a branch of Governor Beshear’s administration, that prohibited church gatherings on threat of criminal penalty.  On March 25, Governor Beshear issued Executive Order 2020-257, and asserted religious organizations are not “life-sustaining” organizations, except when they function as charities by providing “food, shelter, and social services.”  But while restricting churches the Governor permits people to congregate indoors in large numbers in a variety of other contexts, from shopping malls, to retail stores, to laundromats, to liquor stores, so long as they do so consistent with social distancing practices.

But First Liberty argues, “Defendants’ statewide ban on religious worship services is a substantial burden on the religious exercise of Tabernacle Baptist and its members if they cannot meet for in-person corporate worship. For six weeks, since March 22, Tabernacle Baptist and its congregants have been unable to gather for religious worship in their sanctuary for fear of criminal prosecution despite their willingness to abide by social distancing precautions.”

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron on Wednesday moved to join the lawsuit.  He says the governor’s ban on in-person mass gatherings targets faith-based gatherings and is unconstitutional.