Kentucky church that gathered in-person Easter sues over ban

Coronavirus

In this Sunday, April 5, 2020, photo, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks about the coronavirus during a news conference at the state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. (Ryan C. Hermens//Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky church that held in-person services on Easter in defiance of the state’s coronavirus restrictions on gatherings has sued the governor to block enforcement against houses of worship.

Maryville Baptist Church and its pastor, Jack Roberts, filed the federal lawsuit Friday in Louisville, claiming that Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration is infringing on the congregation’s constitutional rights.

It’s not the first lawsuit in the back-and-forth over Kentucky’s prohibition on in-person church services.

Three churchgoers have likewise asked a federal judge in Covington to declare Beshear’s order relating to churches to be unconstitutional. They attended an in-person Easter service at Maryville Baptist Church near Louisville and received quarantine notices on their cars.

Beshear has said his mass gathering orders do not single out churches. He has said worshippers across the state have found ways to pray and participate in a religious services without gathering in person at churches.

The church’s lawsuit says Kentucky State Police put the notices on both occupied and unoccupied cars, whether the owners were inside the building or in their vehicles for the drive-in version of the service.

The notices ordered the churchgoers to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The lawsuit says attendees inside the church followed social distancing and hygiene requirements, staying at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart.

The lawsuit indicates that the church plans to hold services this Sunday as well.

A federal judge has previously ruled that Louisville could not halt a local church’s Easter drive-in service. In that case, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, has filed a brief that argues Beshear’s state order is written broadly enough to unconstitutionally ban drive-in services, as well.

In a previous brief in the Louisville case, Beshear has said his order doesn’t ban drive-thru church services, saying it is intended to “prohibit person-to-person interaction, not interactions where people remain in a vehicle.”

The state said Friday that its death toll from the coronavirus has reached at least 137. In all, there have been a total of more than 2,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since early March.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in a few weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including life-threatening pneumonia.

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