A federal appeals court has blocked a previous ruling that allows religious schools in Kentucky to hold in-person instruction.
Gov. Andy Beshear sought an emergency appeal on Thanksgiving to keep private religious schools closed in the state, WPSD Local 6 reported. Beshear immediately filed the appeal the day after US District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove ruled that the governor can't stop these religious schools from holding in-person classes.
Beshear's move was highly criticized by Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who said on his social media page that the governor "doubled down on his unconstitutional closure of religious schools by seeking emergency relief from an appellate court."
Beshear previously issued an executive order banning in-person classes for private and public schools until January as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In line with this order, he instructed schools to adapt nontraditional methods of instruction beginning Nov. 23.
The executive order earned criticism from schools and parents alike. Danville Christian Academy filed a lawsuit seeking a restraining order against it.
The attorney general joined the lawsuit, which gained support from other schools and parents in the state. More than a dozen other schools joined the lawsuit, saying the governor's order is a violation of both the First Amendment and the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act, WHAS reported.
Christ Weist, the lawyer who represents some of the schools, filed a separate lawsuit seeking to keep the classrooms open
On Wednesday, Tatenhove granted a preliminary injunction on the schools that filed the lawsuit. He explained that the governor can enforce the order on public schools but not on private religious schools.
"The governor is enjoined from enforcing the prohibition on in-person instruction with respect to any religious private school in Kentucky that adheres to applicable social distancing and hygiene guidelines," Van Tatenhove ruled.
Earlier this year, Beshear also ordered churches to stop in-person worship services. This was challenged by Tabernacle Baptist Church in court, saying the rule is unconstitutional and infringes on their First Amendment rights. Tatenhove ruled in favor of the church and issued a temporary restraining order against the restriction.
According to Cameron, the governor "questions the sincerely held religious beliefs of Danville Christian Academy." The attorney general also said Beshear claimed to have suspended the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
He condemned these attacks on religious freedom, saying it is "frightening" that Beshear believes he can "suspend religious liberty."
"The Governor is not above the law, and we urge him to drop this ill-conceived appeal and to halt his attacks on religious freedom. We again invite him to work with all elected officials to address the public health emergency," Cameron said.