Supreme Court denies Kentucky religious school’s challenge to COVID-19 restrictions, for now

The Supreme Court said Thursday it won’t order Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) to lift COVID-19 restrictions on in-school classes at Danville Christian Academy or other religious schools, but the justices gave the Christian school the chance to refile its case after the Christmas break. Beshear’s order shifted all K-12 schools, public and private, to remote learning until Jan. 4, but schools start their winter break on Friday. “Under all of the circumstances, especially the timing and the impending expiration of the order, we deny the application without prejudice,” the unsigned opinion said.

Danville Christian Academy, joined by Kentucky’s Republican attorney general and several dozen congressional Republicans, argued that while Beshear’s order applies to all schools, the judges should compare religious schools not to their public counterparts but to secular businesses like movie theaters and stores that have been allowed to remain open at limited capacity. In that light, they argued, Beshear’s order is a violation of their First Amendment religious liberties. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito agreed. “I would not leave in place yet another potentially unconstitutional decree, even for the next few weeks,” Gorsuch wrote in a dissent.

The Supreme Court has been adjudicating COVID-19 policies affecting religious services, imprisonment, shopping, and election administration since March, USA Today notes, but in recent weeks — since Justice Amy Coney Barrett replaced the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the court — “the court’s conservatives freed churches, synagogues, and mosques from strict attendance limits imposed by Democratic governors in New York and, by extension, California, Colorado, and New Jersey.”

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