AG: State can’t close religious schools meeting COVID guidelines

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Attorney General Daniel Cameron issued an opinion Wednesday that state and local officials cannot order the closure of religious schools that comply with social distancing and health guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The opinion states that the Governor, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and other officials are prohibited from closing religiously affiliated schools in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and state law.

But when asked about it at his daily coronavirus briefing Wednesday, Gov. Andy Beshear seemed perplexed.

“No one is trying to close any religious school that is following the guidelines…I don’t know where that came from,” Beshear said.

According to a statement from Cameron, the law prohibits the state from mandating the closure of religiously affiliated schools that are complying with recommended health guidelines.

“Religiously affiliated schools are an important extension of faith for many Kentucky families, and the state cannot prevent them from operating so long as necessary health precautions are observed,” Cameron said.

The opinion notes that in exercising their First Amendment rights, parents may choose to send their children to religiously affiliated schools and that religious organizations have a First Amendment right to open and operate such schools, consistent with recommended health guidelines. An attempt by the state to force religious schools to cease operation risks violating the Constitution.

A forced closure of religious schools would also violate Kentucky’s Religious Freedom Restoration (RFRA) act, which provides that government cannot substantially burden a religious belief without demonstrating a compelling governmental interest and using the least restrictive means to further that interest.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that [e]xtended school closure is harmful to children, and that [r]eopening schools creates opportunity to invest in the education, well-being, and future of one of Americas greatest assets our children while taking every precaution to protect students, teachers, staff and all their families.

The Attorney Generals opinion finds that based upon these recommendations from credentialed health organizations, a forced closure of religious schools that are complying with health guidelines would not be the least restrictive means to slow the spread of the coronavirus and would violate the law.

Categories: Local News, News

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