Senate

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

More than three dozen Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (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 Cruz (Texas) and Josh Hawley (Mo.), argued that the restrictions amount to an illegal shutdown of religious activity.

“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 Kavanaugh, who oversees emergency applications from a region that includes Kentucky. Among the attorneys representing the lawmakers was President Trump’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.

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.

Tags Brett Kavanaugh coronavirus restrictions COVID-19 Donald Trump Josh Hawley Mitch McConnell Religious schools Ted Cruz

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