Cameron calls on governor to end targeting, discrimination against faith-based gatherings during COVID-19
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron called on Gov. Andy Beshear Tuesday to end his targeting of faith-based gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic and allow in-person church gatherings to resume, consistent with Centers for Disease Control recommendations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Cameron stated that if the governor does not immediately rescind his executive orders targeting faith-based gatherings, he will file a lawsuit against the governor for violating the First Amendment rights of Kentuckians.
In a press conference Tuesday, Cameron highlighted the disfavored treatment that faith-based groups have received as a result of Gov. Beshear’s March 19 executive order banning mass gatherings.
“The First Amendment provides the citizens of this country with the specific, enumerated right to practice their religious beliefs, free from targeting and discrimination,” said Cameron. “By specifically banning faith-based mass gatherings while allowing other secular organizations and activities to continue operation, Gov. Beshear has deliberately targeted religious groups. This pattern of targeting continued when the Governor ordered state police to track the license plates of those who attended a faith-based gathering on Easter Sunday, and it continues even this week as he allows some businesses to resume operations.”
Gov. Beshear’s March 19 executive order expressly prohibits faith-based mass gatherings while allowing for exemptions for secular organizations and activities, including typical office environments, factories, and retail or grocery stores. The order acknowledges that even though these types of secular activities involve the presence of groups of people, they should be allowed to continue so long as individuals “maintain appropriate social distancing.” The order provides no such exemption or accommodation for faith-based gatherings. Other states have placed similar restrictions on mass gatherings but have allowed exemptions for those that are faith-based, Cameron said in a news release.
“Kentucky law gives the Governor broad power during a state of emergency, but it does not give him the power to violate the First Amendment by discriminating against faith-based practices,” added Cameron. “We cannot, in good faith, move forward from this health crisis together if we have allowed faith-based groups to be unfairly targeted during the process. Governor Beshear should immediately rescind the executive orders targeting faith-based gatherings, and, if he doesn’t, then we will be forced to file a lawsuit and allow a judge to determine whether his order, as it pertains to religious groups, is constitutional.”
Cameron also announced Tuesday that his office will continue to support the First Amendment rights of Kentuckians in two ongoing federal court cases, Maryville v. Beshear and Roberts v. Beshear, by filing amicus briefs. Both cases question the constitutionality of Gov. Beshear’s executive order banning faith-based mass gatherings.
During his daily news briefing Tuesday, Beshear said that none of his orders have banned in-person church services as such.
“We ban all mass gatherings. No one is singled out at all there. My comment to it in both cases, we have had early rulings by a judge indicating that they are likely to rule that everything we have done is legal,” Beshear said. “Folks, I am not trying to set rules that are difficult. I am not trying to set rules that are controversial. I am just trying to set rules that save people’s lives. We have safe opportunities to worship. Right now they are virtual and drive-in services.”