Health

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has filed a defense of his decision to close all K-12 schools in the state to slow the spread of the coronavirus with the nation’s highest court.

In the response filed with the U. S. Supreme Court on Friday, Beshear claimed that religious schools had not been singled out and, therefore, there’s no need for “this Court’s intervention.”

“The Executive Order at issue applies to all public and private elementary schools in the Commonwealth, ‘religious or otherwise,’” the brief read. “It does not prohibit religious worship; it does not treat religious schools more harshly than secular ones; and ‘there is no evidence that the challenged restrictions were ‘targeted’ or ‘gerrymandered’ to ensure an impact on religious groups.’”

Beshear’s school closure order was challenged by Danville Christian Academy which claimed it infringed on its First Amendment religious freedom rights. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron joined the lawsuit. 

Beshear’s brief stated that the order “does not mention religion at all,” and noted that it is a temporary measure put in place for the sake of public safety during this “third wave” of the virus in Kentucky. 

On Monday, the attorney general filed an emergency application with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the court to take up a legal challenge against the governor’s executive orders halting in-person education across the state. 

Cameron hopes the high court will overturn a decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had overruled a lower court’s decision last month, ruling that Beshear’s order didn’t target religious schools. 

“[The executive order] applies to all public and private elementary and secondary schools in the Commonwealth, religious or otherwise; it is therefore neutral and of general applicability and need not be justified by a compelling governmental interest,” the appellate court judges wrote. 

According to Beshear’s brief to SCOTUS, allowing K-12 religious schools to reopen while others remained on remote learning “may risk creating a troubling hierarchy of Constitutional rights.”

“To single out religious schools for special treatment at a time when so many parents are making sacrifices to carry out the painful but necessary task of virtual education, would risk undermining the ideals of peaceful coexistence and religious pluralism,” the brief read. 

In a related development Friday afternoon, 38 U.S. Senators filed a brief with the high court asking that they be allowed to join the suit in support of Danville Christian Academy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky were among them.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.