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Kentucky AG Threatens Lawsuit Over In-Person Church Services

Church near station
View of the Pleasant View Baptist Church in Wises Landing, Kentucky, on Sunday January 6, 2019.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron has threatened to file a lawsuit against the state challenging the constitutionality of an order barring all mass gatherings including in-person church services.

Cameron, a Republican, asked Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to rescind the order as it applies to in-person church services during a news conference on the steps of the State Capitol Thursday afternoon.

“The governor should allow churches to resume in-person services consistent with the Constitution and CDC guidelines,” Cameron said. “And if he doesn’t, then we will be forced to file a lawsuit and allow a judge to determine if his order, as it pertains to religious groups, is constitutional.”

On March 6, Beshear signed an executive order prohibiting all mass gatherings to limit the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 200 Kentuckians in less than two months.

Beshear’s order swept across a variety of gatherings including basketball games, concerts, conventions and faith-based events. In response to Cameron, Beshear said he's not concerned with politics, he's just trying to save as many lives as possible.

"Folks I'm not trying to set rules that are difficult. I'm not trying to set rules that are controversial. I'm just trying to set rules that save people's lives," Beshear said.

A devout Christian, Beshear has said he believes God gives people the wisdom to protect each other. Kentuckians that want to worship safely can still attend virtual and drive-in services, he said.

Cameron said in-person church services are protected by the First Amendment and the state constitution. He said it's unfair that big box, grocery and liquor stores remain open while churches are closed.

“[People] look at the juxtaposition. The cars that are in those parking lots. They look at the church that is closed down with no cars that are in the parking lot. They see something that is inherently wrong with that situation,” Cameron said.

Cameron is not advocating that churches resume in-person services immediately. Rather, he said he has faith that religious leaders will listen to health experts' guidance.

On Monday, Cameron filed a motion in federal court asking to join a lawsuit against the state over concerns that Beshear’s travel ban unconstitutionally infringed on the rights of Kentuckians to travel across state borders.

This story has been updated. 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.