Church Sues Kentucky Gov Andy Beshear for Closing Churches, Letting Abortion Clinics Stay Open

State   |   Steven Ertelt, Micaiah Bilger   |   May 6, 2020   |   12:22PM   |   Frankfort, KY

A Kentucky church has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Andy Beshear’s decision to allow abortions to continue while restricting church gatherings and small businesses.

Like many Democrat governors, Beshear restricted church gatherings, small businesses, non-essential medical care and more to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus and preserve medical supplies for life-saving medical care.

However, the governor allowed an exception for elective abortions – after the state’s only abortion clinic donated to his campaign.

Today, First Liberty Institute and network attorneys with WilmerHale and Bilby Law PLLC today filed a federal lawsuit and a motion for a temporary restraining order in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky on behalf of Tabernacle Baptist Church of Nicholasville, Kentucky, challenging Governor Andy Beshear’s orders that prohibit in-person church services and threaten criminal penalties.

“Governor Beshear’s orders unlawfully target religious worship and violate the First Amendment,” said Roger Byron, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “The Constitution forbids the government from burdening churches with restrictions that are not imposed on other entities. The fundamental rights of religious Americans who seek to abide by the public health guidelines during this pandemic may not be singled out for onerous restrictions.”

Churches like Tabernacle Baptist stopped holding in-person religious services after a March 19, 2020 order by Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, a branch of Governor Beshear’s administration, that prohibited church gatherings on threat of criminal penalty. On March 25, Governor Beshear issued Executive Order 2020-257, and asserted religious organizations are not “life-sustaining” organizations, except when they function as charities by providing “food, shelter, and social services.” But while restricting churches the Governor permits people to congregate indoors in large numbers in a variety of other contexts, from shopping malls, to retail stores, to laundromats, to liquor stores, so long as they do so consistent with social distancing practices.

In its complaint, First Liberty argues, “Defendants’ statewide ban on religious worship services is a substantial burden on the religious exercise of Tabernacle Baptist and its members if they cannot meet for in-person corporate worship. For six weeks, since March 22, Tabernacle Baptist and its congregants have been unable to gather for religious worship in their sanctuary for fear of criminal prosecution despite their willingness to abide by social distancing precautions.”

To address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak, Tabernacle Baptist is committed to physically gathering in a manner consistent with social distancing guidelines issued by the CDC and Governor Beshear’s March 25 order to ensure the safety and well-being of all congregants, including: encouraging the use of personal protection equipment (“PPE”), ensuring the availability of hand sanitizer, separating the seating of households by a minimum of six (6) feet, and regularly disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

In April, First Liberty and WilmerHale secured a temporary restraining order for On Fire Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. There, federal Judge Justin Walker stated in his order that Louisville’s ban on drive-in church services violated the Free Exercise clause “‘beyond all question.’”

Beshear was the subject of protests by over 1,000 people over the weekend. Rep. Stan Lee, R-Fayette, criticized him.

“We see what is going on all around us in our country,” Lee said. “We the people do not get our rights, freedoms and liberty from the government. We get them from God almighty. Which is why it is so disturbing we have a governor who will shut down the state to save lives and then veto the born alive bill. The hypocrisy is stunning. This is the same governor who made abortion clinic essential, but not churches.”

Lee said Kentucky health officials reported 240 deaths related to COVID-19 as of Saturday, meanwhile approximately 746 unborn babies were killed in elective abortions since March 1 in the state.

“All the while we have a governor taking down license plates of church-goers while at the same time letting prisoners go. Enough is enough. Wake up Kentucky!” he said.

A number of protesters carried pro-life signs, including one that read “Killing babies is not essential,” according to WLKY News.

Protester Perry Brewster questioned the governor’s priorities in an interview with the news outlet.

“If every life is precious, why are we leaving abortion clinics open while barber shops have to be closed, while restaurants have to be closed, while schools have to be closed?” Brewster asked.

Fellow protester Carol Miller, of Wilmore, said she also was upset with Beshear for allowing the “intentional deaths” of unborn babies to continue even while claiming he wants to save lives.

“There’s no law that says we can’t assemble. There’s no law that says we can’t open businesses. I don’t like Gov. Beshear telling us what we can and cannot do,” she told the local news.

During the protest, state Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington, led the crowd in a moment of silence for those who died to COVID-19 and then a second moment of silence for unborn babies who have been killed in abortions, Kentucky Today reports.

“How can an individual say he respects lives, and then allow over 700 children to be aborted in a clinic a few miles down the road?” Hale asked. “Let’s stand for freedom. Let’s stand for righteousness. Let’s stand on the Word of God.”

Beshear also has been facing an intense backlash for vetoing a bill to protect newborns from infanticide. State Senate Bill 9 would have required “reasonable life-saving and life-sustaining” medical care to be provided to infants who are born alive after failed abortions. Medical professionals who violated the measure could have faced criminal penalties and had their licenses revoked.

In his veto statement, Beshear claimed the bill was unnecessary and “divisive.”

But state Attorney General Daniel Cameron responded that Beshear’s veto is what is truly “divisive” because he rejected a bipartisan bill that “protects our most vulnerable,” Forward Kentucky reports.

“The governor, who claims to have everyday family values, vetoed a bill that would require babies born after failed abortions to receive live-saving medical care,” Cameron said.

Earlier in April, Kentuckians also protested the governor’s actions. “Abortion is not essential!” was among the protesters’ calls as they stood outside the Capitol, Kentucky Today reports. At several points, their shouts could be heard as Beshear was giving his daily briefing inside.

WSAZ estimated that there were hundreds of protesters April 15 in Frankfort. Most practiced social distancing by staying at least 6 feet apart, wearing masks and/or staying in their vehicles.

The only abortion facility in the state, EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, is still aborting unborn babies. Planned Parenthood currently is working with Beshear to obtain a license to do abortions in the state as well.

Recently, medical groups representing more than 30,000 doctors in America emphasized that abortions are not “essential” or “urgent,” and abortion facilities that continue to operate during the pandemic are being “medically irresponsible.”