Coney Barrett gets another chance to redesign the COVID rules in the case of religious schools in Kentucky

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Amy Coney Barrett will have a second chance to rewrite the COVID rules as the Attorney General of Kentucky asks the U.S. Supreme Court to lift state coronavirus restrictions on personal instruction in religious schools.

Earlier this week, Barrett played a key role in the Supreme Court decision to ban New York from enforcing certain coronavirus restrictions on religious services.

Barrett will now be given the opportunity to rule on the case of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron against Democratic leader Andy Beshear’s injunction to close classrooms in religious schools during the pandemic.

Beshear’s order closed all schools regardless of religion from mid-November until the end of the semester. This is with the exception of elementary school, which may reopen on December 7 unless they are in a “red zone” – districts with 25 or more COVID cases per 100,000 people.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove on Wednesday upheld Cameron’s complaint and issued a restraining order allowing religious schools to let children into their classrooms.

But on Sunday, a three-member district court committee overturned the decision, reportedly saying classrooms and children “present unique problems for public health officials responding to the COVID 19 pandemic.

As a result, Cameron said he has now filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court to uphold the original decision of the district court in substance.

In a statement on Monday, he said: “The US Supreme Court has already ruled that religious institutions cannot be treated differently from secular activities, and we ask the court to simply apply the same analysis to the Governor’s unequal treatment of religious schools and other secular activities.

“We are determined to pursue every available option to protect the constitutional rights of Kentuckians, and today’s filing with the Supreme Court is the next step.

We have filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Supreme Court tonight to protect the rights of Kentuckians under the First Amendment and to stop the enforcement of the Governor’s order to close religious schools.

Read more: https://t.co/QST1PLxNzc pic.twitter.com/LqwaSBVUCF

– Attorney General Daniel Cameron (@kyoag) November 30, 2020

Why Barrett could play a decisive role

The Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 in favor of temporarily blocked measures that would restrict large gatherings at worship sites in New York.

The newest member of the court, Barrett, a conservative and devout Catholic, cast a decisive vote. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and the court’s three liberal judges disagreed.

The Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues in Brooklyn and Queens Counties in New York City had filed suit to challenge the restrictions on attendance at places of worship in areas more affected by the virus.

Both motions argued that the places of worship were unfairly treated by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decree, which imposed new state restrictions last month. The number of participants was limited to 10 and 25 people for the red and orange zones, respectively.

However, the Supreme Court decision will have no immediate impact, as the two groups are located in areas now designated as yellow zones, where places of worship are allowed to hold worship services at 50 percent of their maximum capacity.

This Supreme Court decision contradicted the decisions on the capacity limits of churches in California and Nevada earlier this year.

In these cases, which were decided at a time when Barrett’s predecessor, the liberal judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was sitting in court, the judges voted 5 to 4 to maintain the governor’s restrictions on worship services.

Barrett was confirmed in the court last month after Ginsburg’s death in September. Her rise to the Supreme Court has tipped the scales toward a more conservative bench, and this could have a decisive impact when the judges rule on the Kentucky case.

How the Kentucky dispute developed

Beshear cited an increasing number of coronavirus cases in Kentucky when he issued the Executive Order on November 18, which imposed restrictions on gatherings in schools, restaurants, bars, gyms, offices, weddings, funerals and other indoor events until mid-December.

Days later, Cameron filed a lawsuit with Danville Christian Academy, a religious school in Boyle County, arguing, according to the Courier Journal, that the crackdown violated First Amendment religious rights and Kentucky’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The publication reported that a Beshear spokeswoman responded to the suit by highlighting how the Kentucky Supreme Court the week before had unanimously upheld the governor’s authority to issue executive orders in an emergency.

After the district court ruled against Cameron, Beshear wrote on Twitter that the court recognized how “we all have to do our part in slowing down this virus in the coming weeks.

He said, “While we all want our children to be taught in person again, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recognized that this would now endanger the health and lives of Kentucky’s children, educators and families. To save more lives and defeat this virus, everyone must do their part”.

Today, the Sixth Circuit recognized that we all must do our part to slow down this virus in the coming weeks. Do not try to find an exception, but do your part to save lives. ^AB Picture.twitter.com/0wZuHepU9P

– Governor Andy Beshear (@GovAndyBeshear) November 29, 2020

Meanwhile, during an interview in Fox News the next day, Cameron announced his intention to take the matter to the Supreme Court.

The Attorney General said: “We are ready to take our case to the Supreme Court. We will hopefully file the request for review by the Supreme Court today”.

Cameron told the station that Beshear violated First Amendment rights, adding that attending a religious school “is an act of reverence in itself.

He said, “There must be a delicate balance between the security of the people and respect for the constitutional rights of our citizens. What [Beshear] has repeatedly done is a violation of the First Amendment on the free exercise of religion here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Cameron subsequently confirmed his filing with the Supreme Court in a statement in which he said that he “requests the court to give effect to the decision of a circuit judge to stop the execution of Governor Beshear’s order to ban personal instruction in Kentucky’s religious schools.

Telling parents who send their children to religious schools that they cannot attend school violates their First Amendment rights.

I joined @foxandfriends this morning to talk about our lawsuit in defense of Kentuckians’ religious freedom: pic.twitter.com/uiA1KILU8D

– Attorney General Daniel Cameron (@kyoag) November 30, 2020

the Attorney General said: “Kentuckians have the right under the First Amendment to practice their faith through religious education, and we contend that the Governor is clearly violating that right by closing religious schools.

“The US Supreme Court has already ruled that religious institutions cannot be treated differently from secular activities, and we ask the court to simply apply the same analysis to the Governor’s unequal treatment of religious schools and other secular activities.

“We are determined to pursue every available option to protect the constitutional rights of Kentuckians, and today’s filing with the Supreme Court is the next step.

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