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GOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out

GOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out
© Reuters/Pool

More than three dozen Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse Democrat touts resolution to expel Marjorie Taylor Greene from Congress Bringing America back from the brink Senate GOP slow walking Biden's pick to lead DHS MORE (Ky.), filed a brief to the Supreme Court on Friday backing a Christian school’s bid for a religious carve-out from Kentucky’s coronavirus restrictions.

The GOP’s friend-of-the-court brief came shortly after Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) filed a response to the legal challenge, in which he defended his school shutdown order as lawful since it applies to both secular and religious schools.

But the Republican filing, backed by some of the Senate’s most conservative members like Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHillicon Valley: Biden's cyber priorities zero in on Russian hack | Apple, Facebook report increase in earnings at the end of 2020 | International authorities disrupt 'world's most dangerous malware' McCaul urges senators to block vote on Commerce secretary over Huawei concerns Lankford to stay on Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission after Capitol riot MORE (Texas) and Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyFormer DHS heads blast Republicans for stalling Binden nominee Mayorkas Senate GOP slow walking Biden's pick to lead DHS Conservatives lean into warnings on 'wave of censorship' MORE (Mo.), argued that the restrictions amount to an illegal shutdown of religious activity.

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“Everyone understands this has been a challenging time for local leaders, but pandemics don’t erase our First Amendment rights,” McConnell said in a statement. “Courts have repeatedly had to defend Americans of faith from overzealous officials who have tried to treat religious institutions in a uniquely disfavored way relative to other parts of society. Enough is enough.”

The GOP brief was directed to Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughUndoing Trump will take more than executive orders LIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing Harris to resign from Senate seat on Monday MORE, who oversees emergency applications from a region that includes Kentucky. Among the attorneys representing the lawmakers was President TrumpDonald TrumpFBI says California extremist may have targeted Newsom House Democrat touts resolution to expel Marjorie Taylor Greene from Congress Facebook to dial back political content on platform MORE’s former White House counsel Don McGahn, who is now a private lawyer at the firm Jones Day.

The dispute arose after Danville Christian Academy, a private pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school located south of Lexington, Ky., and Kentucky’s GOP attorney general Daniel Cameron, filed a legal challenge to the governor’s pandemic-related health orders.

Beshear’s order required all Kentucky schools — both public and private, and both secular and religious schools alike — to stop in-person instruction from late November through early January.

A federal district court blocked the order from applying to religious schools, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit halted the lower court’s ruling. That prompted the challengers on Tuesday to appeal to the Supreme Court.

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The Kentucky case is among several disputes in which religious groups have asked the justices to grant exemptions from pandemic-related limits that they say amount to faith-based discrimination, even as the country is undergoing another surge in coronavirus cases.

On Thursday, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins implored religious leaders to close places of worship amid COVID-19 surge.

Under a 5-4 decision the court issued last week in a New York-based dispute, a conservative majority ruled that health limits placed on houses of worship cannot be more restrictive than those imposed on essential businesses.