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Ky. House passes bill allowing religious organizations to sue for emergency closures

Churches, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship would be able to sue state and local governments for restricting services during states of emergency, under a bill passed by the Kentucky House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The legislation is a response to the restrictions Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear placed on gatherings and businesses, including religious organizations, in the early months of the pandemic. 

Rep. Shane Baker of Somerset, a Republican, is sponsoring the bill he says will protect religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment.  

“During this time churches were shut down. At the same time, big box retailers, grocery stores and home improvement stores remained open. And this was a direct assault on our god given rights that are protected in the constitution,” Baker said. 

The bill would require houses of worship to be open during emergencies so long as businesses that provide essential services are open. It would also allow faith communities to sue the government to allow them to hold services. 

Louisville Democratic Rep. Nima Kulkarni expressed concern over the bill during a debate on Tuesday.

“Could this language taken together potentially stymie any ongoing investigations that law enforcement is conducting into any organizations that is considered religious under this bill?”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky called the bill overly broad and said it would result in “unprecedented criminal and civil immunity” for religious organizations. 

House Bill 43 passed the state house on an 83-12 vote and now moves on to the Senate.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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