FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Seventeen Kentucky Christian schools and more than 1,000 Kentucky parents filed separate briefs in support of a federal lawsuit against Gov. Andy Beshear‘s order halting in-person instruction at public and private K-12 schools.
The amicus brief filed Monday by the parents said Beshear’s executive order violates Danville Christian Academy’s right to the free exercise of religion and violates the free exercise rights of parents who send their children to religious schools as part of the children’s religious training.
The brief, filed by the religious schools in U.S. District Court in Frankfort, said there was no link to any current increase in COVID cases to numbers in schools.
“Because the religious schools believe both in the importance of their mission and the need for in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible, each of the religious schools has taken extraordinary steps and incurred significant financial expense to provide safe in-person learning during this academic year,” the brief said.
Beshear announced new executive orders Wednesday designed to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Kentucky, which has been setting records nearly daily.
One order requires the state's private and public K-12 schools to hold only virtual classes until Jan. 4.
Elementary schools not in red counties, which average 25 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents, can resume in-person classes Dec. 7 if they follow the state’s "Healthy At School" guidance, according to Beshear’s order.
The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that Beshear can protect the health and safety of Kentucky citizens.
On Friday, Danville Christian Academy and Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed a lawsuit against Beshear, saying his order closing Kentucky’s schools, including private religious schools, violates the First Amendment of the Constitution and the state’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.
“The governor’s school-closure order prohibits religious organizations from educating children consistent with and according to their faith,” Cameron, said in a release. “The ability to provide and receive a private religious education is a core part of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment.”
Beshear said Monday at his regular press conference he closed public and private schools to in-person learning as a last resort, saying “it is not safe” and that roughly 10,000 school kids had been in quarantine.
The motion for a temporary restraining order filed along with the federal lawsuit said, “Danville Christian has a sincerely held religious belief that it is called by God to have in-person instruction for its students, and it believes that ‘its students should be educated with a Christian worldview in a communal in-person environment.’”
U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove heard the request for a temporary restraining order Monday afternoon in Lexington and is expected to render a decision this week.
Beshear’s general counsel filed a response, saying the governor treated all schools equally and that the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously has upheld his emergency orders.
The 17 Christian schools who filed the brief were: Pleasantville Baptist School, Veritas Christian Academy, Highlands Latin, Micah Christian School, Faith Baptist Academy, Central Baptist Academy, Cornerstone Christian School, Mayfield Creek Christian School, Bourbon Christian Academy, Foundation Christian Academy, Heritage Christian School, Kentucky Christian Academy, Lexington Christian Academy, Lexington Latin School, Somerset Christian School, Summit Christian Academy and Trinity Christian Academy.