Judge strikes down Gov. Beshear’s order to halt in-person learning at private religious schools

Gov. Andy Beshear recommends places of worship switch to virtual-only services
Gov. Andy Beshear recommends places of worship switch to virtual-only services
Published: Nov. 26, 2020 at 3:18 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 26, 2020 at 3:21 PM CST
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KENTUCKY (WFIE) - A federal judge ruled Wednesday that religious schools in Kentucky can still hold in-person classes.

This move strikes down a part of Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order, which required private and public to suspend in-person instruction amid the recent wave of COVID-19 cases across the commonwealth.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove granted Danville Christian Academy’s request for an injunction, which will allow all religious schools to resume in-person learning.

The lawsuit was filed by several religious schools earlier this week. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and more than a dozen other private schools joined the lawsuit, including Heritage Christian School in Owensboro.

Click here to read a copy of the court’s ruling

Cameron issued this statement after the judge’s ruling:

“On the day before Thanksgiving, I am incredibly thankful for the timeless and enduring protections enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. More than 200 years ago, our founders answered the question presented to the court in this case by protecting the free exercise of religion, and today, the court firmly upheld that guarantee by recognizing that Kentuckians have a right to worship and express their faith through a religious education.

“The court prohibited the Governor from enforcing his executive order and unequivocally stated that the Commonwealth’s religious schools can resume in-person learning. This is not the first time during this pandemic where religious exercise has been threatened, first with the prohibition on drive-in church services, then in-person worship services, and now in-person instruction at religious schools.

“In each of these instances, the courts have affirmed that the freedoms provided by our Constitution are stronger than the fears of the moment and cannot be cast aside by the Governor or any leader. Our country was built on the idea of religious freedom and will always be a place of refuge for those of faith. This pandemic reminds us now, more than ever, of the importance of faith and the reassurance and stability it provides for many in the midst of challenging times.”

Crystal Staley with the governor’s office released the following statement on Wednesday.

“We are disappointed but not surprised that Judge Van Tatenhove, for the second time, has refused to acknowledge the U.S. Supreme Court decision that found an action like this is both legal and constitutional. We have already appealed to the Sixth Circuit and will request an emergency stay of the judge’s order, and, if necessary, will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Let’s be clear: lives are on the line and everyone must do their part to defeat the virus.”

Heritage Christian School Administrator Tim Hoak provided the following statemet on behalf of the school district:

We plan to return to in-person classes on Monday, but the Governor has appealed the judge’s ruling. We will have to wait to see how that appeal goes. The support to return to in-person classes has been overwhelming. So far, we have had no Covid cases among our student body of nearly 200 students, or among our faculty and staff. We are grateful to God!

Owensboro Catholic Schools were not part of the suit, but in response to Wednesday’s ruling, school administrators say it’s expecting to make a decision about in-person classes soon.

Chief Administrative Officer Keith Osborne tells 14 News that officials anticipated a “favorable” ruling in the case, and will meet Friday to discuss their safest options.

The Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School in Henderson issued this statement on the judge’s ruling:

We were anticipating a favorable ruling on the executive order. We will meet on Friday to evaluate our situation and discuss our safest options. We will communicate more detailed information after that meeting.

Thank you for your prayers, patience, and support.

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