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Civil Rights

Kentucky Pastor Sues Gov. Andy Beshear for Citing Churchgoers on Easter Sunday

— April 21, 2020

Jack Roberts, pastor of Maryville Baptist Church, says the state selectively issued churchgoers tickets on Easter Sunday.

The pastor of a Kentucky church is suing Gov. Andy Beshear, claiming the Democratic politician targeted churchgoers for selective enforcement of the state’s stay-at-home order.

According to the lawsuit, Beshear violated Maryville Baptist Church members’ civil rights when he instructed Kentucky State Police troopers to cite vehicles parked outside the property on Easter Sunday. Tickets were allegedly issued even to congregants who opted to participate in a drive-in service rather than go inside.

Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit that frequently files lawsuits on behalf of evangelical Christian organizations, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Maryville Baptist Church and its pastor, Jack Roberts.

In their complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Louisville, Kentucky, Liberty Counsel claimed that churchgoers were “explicitly targeted, singled out, and punished for participating in a religious or ‘faith-based’ gathering.”

The Hill notes that Kentucky State Police recorded congregants’ license plate numbers. Everyone in attendance at Maryville Baptist Church on Easter Sunday received notices that they must self-quarantine for 14 days, regularly recording and reporting their temperatures and any coronavirus-like symptoms they might exhibit.

Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver said churchgoers were targeted only for attending service, and wouldn’t have been issued citations or quarantine orders had they been in a nearby shopping center.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear–then the state’s attorney general–speaking a teacher’s rally in 2018. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:Mountain Top News. (CCA-BY-3.0).

“The only reason these people were given notices is because they were in a church parking lot,” Staver said. “Had they parked in the nearby shopping center, they would not have been targeted. This is clearly Gov. Andy Beshear’s discriminating against churches.”

Maryville Baptist Church was also involved in a failed effort to overturn the portion of Beshear’s shelter-in-place order which forbids faith-based gatherings. This past Sunday, they again flouted the directive, gathering for yet another service. This time, though, State Police didn’t show.

Pastor Roberts’ rationale, as reported by the Courier Journal, seemed somewhat taken by conspiracy theories. He said that he doesn’t want anyone to get sick, but believes “most of these doctors have an agenda of their own.”

“The governor [made] the wrong decision,” Roberts said. “I mean, that’s all I can tell [you].”

“The governor can’t make laws,” he said, alleging it’s unconstitutional for Beshear to put a hold on any sort of religious assembly.

However, Roberts’s claims didn’t stand up in court: U.S. District Judge David Hale found that Beshear’s order bans any host of mass gatherings, not just those which are faith-based. For that reason, Hale said, Beshear violated neither churchgoers’ First Amendment rights nor protections offered by the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Beshear, adds The Hill, had warned Kentuckians that going to church over Easter weekend could culminate in a misdemeanor citation.

The church’s lawsuit against Beshear and the Kentucky State police remains active.


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