LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear responded to a request by the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday by defending his suspension of in-person classes at public and private schools.
The filing comes days after Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron asked the nation's highest court to strike down the Democratic governor’s ban on in-person classes, arguing that the rule violates the First Amendment rights of families that send their children to religious schools as an act of worship.
Under Beshear’s coronavirus-related restrictions, middle and high schools are required to continue with remote learning until January. Elementary schools may reopen Dec. 7 if the county they are located in is not in a “red zone,” the highest category for COVID-19 incidence rates.
Cameron, a Republican, filed the emergency application with the U.S. Supreme Court after the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued a stay of a federal judge’s order to block Beshear’s mandate.
But Gov. Beshear is adamant that the restriction is backed up by law, arguing that the suspension of in-person classes does not impose “tougher restrictions on a religious activity than a secular activity.”
“We’re confident because we’re treating every school the same. We’re not picking on anybody," Beshear said in an interview, contending that the orders are necessary to curb rising virus cases and to protect hospitals from an overflow of patients.
Kentucky is currently in the midst of a surge in new coronavirus cases and virus-related deaths. Some 10,000 students and staff are currently in quarantine.
The governor also noted that he is a deacon at his church and said his faith is “a critical part of who I am.”
“This is not about church. It’s about asking every school to do the same thing," he added.
Thirty-eight Senate Republicans, including Kentucky’s senior senator, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court Friday in support of Cameron's push to reverse the Sixth Circuit's ruling.
“Everyone understands this has been a challenging time for local leaders, but pandemics don’t erase our First Amendment rights,” McConnell said.
Hudspeth Blackburn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.