Ky. gov. sued by 3 church attendees over order barring mass gatherings

Andy Beshear
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks to churchgoers. |

Three regular church attendees have sued Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear and other public officials over an executive order that prevents them from going to in-person worship services.

Theodore Joseph Roberts, Randall Daniel, and Sally O’Boyle filed the lawsuit on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

According to the lawsuit, the three plaintiffs attended an Easter Sunday service at Maryville Baptist Church of Hillview, Bullitt County. While there, they wore face coverings and avoided personal contact with others.

Despite the measures, they found notices on their cars after the service by Kentucky State Troopers saying that their license plate number had been recorded and they were expected to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

The suit argues that state and local officials have “gone too far” in preventing mass gatherings at church and thus are acting “beyond the limits the Constitution permits.”

“Police have solely been dispatched by the Governor, and those reporting to him and acting at his behest, to harass, charge, intimidate, and threaten the churchgoers from Maryville Baptist Church and other church services, and not to any other public gatherings,” the lawsuit states.

The suit argues that the state order preventing in-person worship has “numerous exceptions,” including “an exception for factories, or attending establishments like shopping malls, where far more people come into closer contact with less oversight.”

“Plaintiffs have and continue to have their fundamental constitutional rights violated by these official capacity Defendants, each of whom is personally involved with the enforcement and/or threatened enforcement of the challenged orders. 

“Plaintiffs will be irreparably harmed if injunctive relief is not issued. Further, the public interest is served by the vindication of constitutional rights, and the weighing of harms warrants issuing injunctive relief.”

On March 19, Beshear’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services of the Kentucky Department of Public Health released an order barring most mass gatherings, including religious services.

The order exempted “normal operations at airports, bus and train stations, medical facilities, libraries, shopping malls and centers, or other spaces where persons may be in transit,” as well as “typical office environments, factories, or retail or grocery stores where large numbers of people are present, but maintain appropriate social distancing.”

For his part, Beshear released a statement on Easter Sunday commending “everyone who worshipped at home” and noted that 99.8 percent of houses of worship in the state were closed.

“Your decision to stay home, even when it is really hard, is what saves lives. Thank you, Kentuckians. People you have never met are going to be alive three months from now because of your willingness to do it,” he stated.

Regarding the few churches that stayed open, Commissioner for the Department for Public Health Dr. Steven Stack denounced their decision.

“Does our right to gather together entitle us to have other people die as a result? That is essentially, what happened,” said Stack in a statement released Sunday.

“This is about any gathering, not just churches. We are at a time and place in history when the human species has never faced, for the last hundred years, a threat like we do now. The choices and decisions you make have implications, not only for yourself, but for others.”

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