Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed a motion in federal court Tuesday, challenging Gov. Andy Beshear’s travel ban as unconstitutional. He also urged him to stop targeting faith-based gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic and allow congregants to start gathering in person at church again.
“The First Amendment provides the citizens of this country with the specific, enumerated right to practice their religious beliefs, free from targeting and discrimination,” Cameron said at a press conference. “By specifically banning faith-based mass gatherings while allowing other secular organizations and activities to continue operation, Gov. Beshear has deliberately targeted religious groups. This pattern of targeting continued when the Governor ordered state police to track the license plates of those who attended a faith-based gathering on Easter Sunday, and it continues even this week as he allows some businesses to resume operations.”
Through an executive order on March 19, Beshear banned faith-based mass gatherings while providing exemptions for secular organizations and activities, including typical office environments, factories, and retail or grocery stores, Cameron’s office noted.
The order says even though permitted secular activities involve the presence of groups of people, they can continue as long as individuals “maintain appropriate social distancing.” Faith-based gatherings are allowed no such exemption.
“Kentucky law gives the Governor broad power during a state of emergency, but it does not give him the power to violate the First Amendment by discriminating against faith-based practices,” Cameron noted. “We cannot, in good faith, move forward from this health crisis together if we have allowed faith-based groups to be unfairly targeted during the process. Governor Beshear should immediately rescind the executive orders targeting faith-based gatherings, and, if he doesn't, then we will be forced to file a lawsuit and allow a judge to determine whether his order, as it pertains to religious groups, is constitutional."
Earlier this month, Beshear also issued executive orders restricting travel into and out of the state, except under certain limited circumstances, to help manage the spread of the coronavirus. Anyone entering or returning from out of state was told to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Two anonymous plaintiffs from Marshall County filed a lawsuit recently against both Beshear and Cameron, challenging the constitutionality of the orders. On Tuesday, Cameron filed a motion to join the lawsuit as a plaintiff instead of a defendant.
“Kentuckians have a fundamental and constitutional right to freely travel from one state to another,” Cameron said in a statement. “While the spread of COVID-19 requires Kentuckians to follow CDC recommendations for social distancing and use caution when traveling, the Governor’s order is overly broad by banning nearly all travel. If the Governor is going to ask Kentuckians to surrender their constitutional right to freely travel as part of the fight against COVID-19, such a restriction must be narrowly tailored. The sweeping scope of his travel ban, if left unchecked, creates a dangerous precedent.”
Violating the travel ban could be prosecuted as a Class A misdemeanor which in Kentucky is punishable by 90 days to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $500.