Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron this week urged the state’s governor to rescind the ban on in-person church gatherings and said he would file a lawsuit if nothing is done.
Cameron, a Republican, alleged that a March 19 order by Gov. Andy Beshear and state officials unconstitutionally targets faith-based gatherings. The order bans mass gatherings, including faith-based ones, but carves out at least eight exceptions, including ones for factories and grocery stores.
“The First Amendment provides the citizens of this country with the specific, enumerated right to practice their religious beliefs, free from targeting and discrimination,” Cameron said Tuesday. “By specifically banning faith-based mass gatherings while allowing other secular organizations and activities to continue operation, Gov. Beshear has deliberately targeted religious groups.”
The targeting, Cameron alleged, “continued when the Governor ordered state police to track the license plates of those who attended a faith-based gathering on Easter Sunday, and it continues even this week as he allows some businesses to resume operations.”
The March 19 order allows certain businesses to remain open provided they “maintain appropriate social distancing.” Yet it “provides no such exemption or accommodation for faith-based gatherings,” a press release from Cameron’s office said.
“Kentucky law gives the Governor broad power during a state of emergency, but it does not give him the power to violate the First Amendment by discriminating against faith-based practices,” Cameron said. “We cannot, in good faith, move forward from this health crisis together if we have allowed faith-based groups to be unfairly targeted during the process.
“Governor Beshear should immediately rescind the executive orders targeting faith-based gatherings, and, if he doesn't, then we will be forced to file a lawsuit and allow a judge to determine whether his order, as it pertains to religious groups, is constitutional.”
Beshear, a Democrat, defended the state order in the face of a possible lawsuit by Cameron.
“I’m not trying to set rules that are difficult and I’m not trying to set rules that are controversial, I’m just trying to save people’s lives,” Beshear said.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Oleksii Liskonih
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.