Judge rules Kentucky’s religious schools can have in-person classes

Published: Nov. 25, 2020 at 8:14 PM EST

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - A U.S. District Court judge ruled late Wednesday that Kentucky’s religious schools can hold in-person classes.

Governor Andy Beshear announced new steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the state. One of the steps ordered all public and private schools are to cease in-person instruction beginning Nov. 23.

Danville Christian Academy filed a lawsuit and Attorney General Daniel Cameron and other schools joined it. They claim the mandate shouldn’t apply to them because of their religion.

Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove granted Danville Christian Academy’s request for an injunction so the school could continue with in-person learning.

Interactive | Breakdown of Kentucky’s COVID-19 cases

In his opinion, the federal judge said that closing religious schools “prevents the corporate nature of religious education which is insinuated with worship, prayer, and mentoring.”

Crystal Staley with the governor’s office sent the following statement to WKYT:

“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.”

Judge Tatenhove previously ruled that all Kentucky churches could have in-person services so long as they practice social distancing and hygiene guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The judge referred back to his decision, in that case, multiple times, saying that as churches argued they believe Christians should have the ability to meet in person, so too should Danville Christian Academy because of its “sincerely held religious belief that it is called by God to have in-person religious and academic instruction for its students.”

Attorney General Daniel Cameron, R-Kentucky, issued a statement after the ruling. In part he said:

“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.”

The ruling (full version below) comes as Kentucky is in its third surge of COVID-19 cases.

On Wednesday, the governor announced 3,408 new cases, bringing the state total to 166,139 cases.

According to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, more than 24,000 of the total cases have been in children between the ages of 1-19.

Judge Van Tatenhove also cites an article from The Daily Wire on the CDC director calling schools “one of the safest places” for K-12 students to be.

It’s important to note, The Daily Wire calls itself “one of America’s fastest-growing conservative media companies and counter-cultural outlets for news, opinion, and entertainment.”

A CDC spokesperson told CNN the director was referring to “early evidence from an ongoing Brown University analysis.”

The professor who started the dashboard told CNN the lower rates of infection for students could be because students are not routinely tested for the virus.

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