Although Kentucky governor Andy Beshear denied that his executive order banning in-person church services includes drive-in services, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit contended that it does target these services. The panel noted that Maryville Baptist Church members received government notices regardless of whether they stayed in their cars or entered the building.
The panel ruled that the ban violates the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment. From Christian News (emphasis added):
The three judge panel, consisting of Judges Jeffrey Sutton, David McKeague and John Nalbandian, found that Beshear’s COVID ban on “mass gatherings” — including “faith-based” events — while sincere in its objective, does “not amount to the least restrictive way of regulating the churches.” Sutton and McKeague are Bush nominees and Nalbandian was nominated to the bench by President Trump.
“The governor’s actions substantially burden the congregants’ sincerely held religious practices — and plainly so,” they wrote. “Orders prohibiting religious gatherings, enforced by police officers telling congregants they violated a criminal law and by officers taking down license plate numbers, amount to a significant burden on worship gatherings.”
The judges stated that the order is discriminatory in that it seems to allow secular activities as long as social distancing is practiced, but does not grant the same allowances for church services.
Gov. Beshear is embroiled in another religious-freedom matter. The state’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, recently threatened to sue the governor for barring in-person church services.
Cameron said the Constitution “and state law protect the rights of our citizens, of all faiths and backgrounds, to freely worship as they see fit” and should be allowed to “do so consistent with CDC recommendations.”