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Lawsuit accuses Beshear, others of violating religious freedoms in COVID-19 orders

Lexington Herald-Leader logo Lexington Herald-Leader 4/16/2020 By Morgan Eads, Lexington Herald-Leader

A lawsuit has been filed against Gov. Andy Beshear and other state and county officials accusing them of going “too far” and violating religious freedom with restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to court records.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court Tuesday against Beshear, Boone County Attorney Robert Neace and acting Secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Eric Friedlander, according to court records. The plaintiffs are three Kentuckians who were described as being devoutly religious churchgoers. The lawsuit seeks class-action status.

Plaintiffs TJ Roberts, Randall Daniel, and Sally O’Boyle attended Easter Sunday services at Maryville Baptist Church near Louisville. When the three left the church, they found “Quarantine and Prosecution” notices on their cars, according to the lawsuit.

Local health departments were to notify those people that they needed to quarantine at home for 14 days.

“In his evening briefings, the governor made clear that he was going to target religious services for these notices, apart from other gatherings. Based on the activity of the Kentucky State Police on April 12, 2020, the governor carried out his threat,” the lawsuit states.

On Wednesday, Beshear addressed the lawsuit in his daily briefing.

“Here in Kentucky, there are so many different ways to worship, and all but one church in this commonwealth are engaged in them,” Beshear said in the briefing. “You can do it virtually and you can do it at a drive-in service, and in many states, they are not allowing those drive-in services like we are. So, this opportunity to worship, which is so important, is still there. We just ask people to choose one of the versions that doesn’t spread the coronavirus, and I think that’s what our faith calls us to do.”

At the time the three plaintiffs attended the Easter church service, there was no evidence that anyone in attendance had COVID-19, their lawsuit said.

“Each ensured appropriate social distancing and took other measures appropriate for the circumstances in accordance with CDC guidelines, while at the service. Among other things, they each sat six feet away from other congregants at the service, wore masks covering their faces, and did not have personal contact with others attending,” according to the lawsuit.

The three plaintiffs in the suit have refused to self-quarantine unless they are diagnosed with COVID-19 or show symptoms, which they have not, according to the lawsuit.

Some studies suggest people can spread COVID-19 without being symptomatic, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of violating people’s freedoms of religion and travel.

“Admittedly, COVID-19 presents a serious threat to public health and, equally admittedly, defendants have a degree of discretion available to them to deal with this public health threat. Those tools, however, are not limitless. As the facts and circumstances in this complaint reveal, defendants have gone too far, and beyond the limits the Constitution permits,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit wants a court declaration that challenges the COVID-19 orders as unconstitutional and a permanent injunction “to prohibit enforcement of the challenged orders.”

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©2020 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

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