Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is the latest governor to come under fire in a lawsuit alleging he violated the first amendment rights of protesters.
When the coronavirus pandemic first began in the U.S., many agreed that the initial shut down of the country was the right step. At the time we were all told that same mantra: two weeks to slow the spread. Then that turned into 30 days to slow the spread. Now here we are, two months later. While many states have begun to reopen, some states are opening more slowly and still have strict lock-down orders in place, including Kentucky. As a result, many residents are beginning to grow restless, and some have even filed a lawsuit against Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. According to the lawsuit, Beshear “violated First Amendment rights over restrictions to keep protesters at a distance during daily COVID-19 briefings.”
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are seeking a temporary restraining order and/or injunction prohibiting the following:
- Criminal charges and/or enforcement against them
- Government agents forcing them into quarantine, where there is no evidence they are sick or have been exposed to the Coronavirus
- Governmental action preventing them from attending peaceful political protests and rallies at the Capitol subject to certain restrictions. Plaintiffs further seek a preliminary injunction against the Governor’s orders that prohibit them from engaging in political protests at the Capitol under the Governor’s mass gathering order (including drive-in protests).
Additionally, the plaintiffs are seeking “an expedited hearing and decision in this matter due to a planned protest on May 23, 2020.” Chris Wiest, one of the attorneys representing the protesters, said, “Beshear is going to trample constitutional right until the court calls him on it.”
The plaintiffs are four residents of northern Kentucky who have taken part in protests at the capitol. They include Tom Ramsek, Frank Harris, Theodore ‘TJ’ Roberts, and Tony Wheatley. According to them, the “governor prevented their peaceful protests at times, violating their First Amendment rights.” For example, after a protest on April 15 during one of Beshear’s daily COVID-19 briefings, the plaintiffs claim barriers were “erected with threats of criminal prosecution.” Additionally, the suit argues the “roof of a parking garage at the Capitol became a ‘Restricted Speech Zone,’ where protesters were told they could congregate if they remained in their cars.” Wiest and the other attorneys working on the case said the zone is “nothing short of an unconstitutional effort to silence dissent and push inconvenient, but peaceful, protesters out of sight.” Weist added:
“The state police had that parking garage blocked off. To set up a Restricted Speech Zone and then not allow people to use it — that’s a problem.”
When questioned about the lawsuit, Beshear said, “My concern is so many people who are leading these rallies don’t believe this thing is real.” He also added that no one has been arrested or cited for protesting, and said, “I want people to be able to speak out. I want them to be able to disagree with me,” he said. “I want them to be able to protest, but I want them to do it safely, that’s all.”