Kentucky Church That Gathered In-Person Easter Sues Over Ban

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks to the media during a 2019 press conference at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky church that held in-person services on Easter in defiance of the state’s coronavirus restrictions on gatherings has sued the governor to block enforcement against houses of worship.

Maryville Baptist Church and its pastor, Jack Roberts, filed the federal lawsuit Friday in Louisville, arguing that Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration is infringing on the congregation’s constitutional rights.

It’s not the first lawsuit in the back-and-forth over Kentucky’s prohibition on in-person church services.

Three churchgoers have likewise asked a federal judge in Covington to declare Beshear’s order relating to churches to be unconstitutional. They attended an in-person Easter service at Maryville Baptist Church near Louisville and received quarantine notices on their cars.

Beshear has said his mass gathering orders do not single out churches. He has said worshippers across the state have found ways to pray and participate in a religious services without gathering in person at churches.

“I’m confident that we have done everything within our authority, that we have provided other options for people to worship, that we are treating all mass gatherings the same,” Beshear told reporters in his daily news conference Saturday. “It’s just that on that day, there was only one across the entire state, because everyone else was doing it right.”

The church’s lawsuit says Kentucky State Police put the notices on both occupied and unoccupied cars, whether the owners were inside the building or in their vehicles for the drive-in version of the service.

The notices ordered the churchgoers to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The lawsuit says attendees inside the church followed social distancing and hygiene requirements, staying at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart.

The lawsuit indicates that the church plans to hold services this Sunday as well.

A federal judge has previously ruled that Louisville could not halt a local church’s Easter drive-in service. In that case, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, has filed a brief that argues Beshear’s state order is written broadly enough to unconstitutionally ban drive-in services, as well.

In a previous brief in the Louisville case, Beshear has said his order doesn’t ban drive-thru church services, saying it is intended to “prohibit person-to-person interaction, not interactions where people remain in a vehicle.”

The state said Saturday that its death toll from the coronavirus has reached at least 144. In all, there have been a total of more than 2,700 confirmed cases of Covid-19 since early March.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in a few weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including life-threatening pneumonia.

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