Supreme Court dismisses religious schools’ challenge to Kentucky’s COVID-19 restrictions

The Supreme Court Thursday refused to block Executive Order of Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear suspending in-person teaching at most K-12 schools, including religious schools, until year-end, noting that the executive order “effectively expires this week or so soon after “.

Why is this important: The ruling follows several cases that have examined whether state restrictions on coronaviruses affecting religious institutions, including places of worship, violate the First Amendment.

Background: Beshear, a Democrat, signed the executive order last month.

  • Most of Kentucky K-12 schools, including religious schools, had to switch to virtual classes until at least January 4. Some elementary schools outside the state’s hardest-hit counties were allowed to reopen earlier this month, provided they follow state guidelines.
  • The Danville Christian Academy, along with Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, sued the governor, arguing his executive order violated the First Amendment and treated schools worse than restaurants, bars and gyms allowed to stay open with restrictions.
  • A district court initially agreed with Danville Christian Academy and Cameron.
  • But the Sixth Circuit rejected the lower court’s decision, finding no religious discrimination.

What they say : “In all of the circumstances, especially the timing and impending expiration of the order, we deny the request without prejudice to plaintiffs or other parties seeking a new preliminary injunction if the governor issues a school closure order that s ‘applies in the New Year, “the Supreme Court wrote in its brief unsigned ruling.

  • He noted that “the governor’s school closure order expires this week or soon after, and there is no indication that it will be renewed.”
  • Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch were publicly dissenting, saying they would have overturned “the suspension by the Sixth Circuit of the preliminary injunction issued by the district court and the referral for further consideration in light of the appropriate legal standards”.

Govt. Beshear said in his daily coronavirus press conference Thursday, “religious schools were by no means treated any differently, we asked everyone to make the same sacrifice.”

  • He added that as a result of his decree and other measures taken, “we see … he has stopped an exponential growth that was threatening our hospital capacity. The things we put in place have worked.”
  • “I hope that when we know that things will work, everyone will say in the future: ‘We will do our part. “”

Attorney General Cameron said in a declaration that “even though today’s order did not go as many Kentucky parents hoped, the United States Supreme Court order should give the governor a break before he take further executive action related to the closure of religious schools. “

  • “Although the Court chose not to take immediate action because the Governor’s order expires soon, the Court has in no way approved the Governor’s unconstitutional targeting of religious schools.”

The big picture: Kentucky, like several other U.S. states, has seen an increase in coronavirus cases in recent weeks.

  • Beshear on Thursday announced 54 new deaths, a single-day record and 3,349 new confirmed cases of COVID-19.

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