Appeals court allows state to close religious schools

CINCINNATI, Ohio — The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has handed Gov. Andy Beshear a victory in his effort to take action to control the spread of the coronavirus.

On Sunday, a three-judge panel blocked a preliminary injunction which would have allowed religious private schools to resume in-person classes on Monday, despite an order by Beshear to close all public and private schools in the state.

Last Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove blocked enforcement of the order against religious schools, saying the order to close violated their First Amendment protection of free exercise of religion.

But the Court of Appeals disagreed, saying because the governor’s order applied to all schools, the religious schools couldn’t claim they were targeted because of their religious beliefs or practices. It compared Beshear’s order to laws barring the use of peyote, even though some Native American religions use the drug in religious rituals.

“The contours of the order at issue here also in now way correlate to religion, and cannot be plausibly read to contain even a hint of hostility towards religion,” the judges wrote in their ruling.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who joined Danville Christian Academy in bringing the lawsuit against the governor, expressed disappointment with the ruling and said he was already working to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.