Kentucky churches will be allowed to hold services starting May 10 after rulings in two separate cases.
A lawsuit by Maryville Baptist Church and its pastor arguing that Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration infringed on the congregation’s constitutional rights by restricting faith-based gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic had previously been rejected.
United States District Court David J. Hale said in Friday's ruling that "the Court finds that Plaintiffs would likely succeed on the merits of their claim under the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act (KRFRA). In the alternative, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their constitutional claims. The Court will therefore grant the remainder of Plaintiffs’ motion for injunction pending appeal."
In a separate case involving Tabernacle Baptist Church in Nicholasville, United State District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove wrote:
"We are a relatively young nation. But our Constitution is the oldest in the world. We describe it as enduring— a value that must be protected not only when it is easy but when it is hard.
"And this is a hard and difficult time. A new virus sweeps the world, ravages our economy and threatens our health. Public officials, including the defendants in this case, make minute by minute decisions with the best of intentions and the goal of saving the health and lives of our citizens.
"But what of that enduring Constitution in times like these? Does it mean something different because society is desperate for a cure or prescription?
"Simply put, that is the question presented here. Tabernacle Baptist Church wants to gather for corporate worship. They want to freely exercise their deeply held religious belief about what it means to be a faithful Christian. For them, it is “essential” that they do so. And they want to invoke the Constitution’s protection on this point.
"But the governor, by executive order, has put a stop to that. He can do that, but he must have a compelling reason for using his authority to limit a citizen’s right to freely exercise something we value greatly— the right of every American to follow their conscience on matters related to religion. As explained below, despite an honest motive, it does not appear at this preliminary stage that reason exists. Consequently, as explained below, the motions for a temporary restraining order are GRANTED."
Churches must still adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Attorney General Cameron released a statement Friday night regarding the rulings.:
"Two federal courts tonight issued orders, in two separate cases, against Governor Beshear’s unconstitutional executive orders prohibiting religious services. Both rulings affirm that the law prohibits the government from treating houses of worship differently than secular activities during this pandemic.
"Freedom of religion, enshrined in the founding documents of our nation and our Commonwealth, has been affirmed many times over by our judiciary and was once again upheld tonight. The rulings should serve as a reminder that the pillars of our nation stand strong even in the midst of a crisis and are not to be ignored, cast aside, or downplayed, regardless of the circumstances.
"I encourage all houses of worship to prayerfully and carefully consider when it is the right time to resume in-person services consistent with health guidelines. Although these rulings protect the religious liberty of Kentuckians, we must continue to do our part to protect the health of our fellow citizens by reopening carefully."
Both rulings can be read below.