Last month, Kentucky’s Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Danville Christian Academy, a private religious school, sued the state’s governor, Andy Beshear, for what they claimed was a violation of their religious freedom.
Beshear had signed an executive order prohibiting public and private K-12 schools from meeting in-person for a few weeks because the virus was out of control… and that’s it. That’s what the Christians claimed was discrimination. They said the order included “no accommodations for religious education” — as if religious schools were immune to COVID. It’s not like Beshear specifically punished religious schools. He issued a blanket ban on all schools meeting in person.
Yet Cameron and the Danville Christian Academy said the order was unfair because a similar but separate order didn’t shut down restaurants or bars. (Why could schools be closed but gyms open? they wanted to know.) They also said they should be permitted to meet if they made sure to follow social distancing guidelines. Which is necessary, sure, but not sufficient to prevent the spread of the virus.
Beshear urged the Supreme Court to let his orders remain in effect:
… [Beshear said] Kentucky is currently experiencing a “deadly third wave” in the pandemic, and Danville Christian and Cameron had not presented any “expert testimony, scientific studies, or public health testimony” to support their contention that the public health risks from in-person schools is comparable to those posed by the activities covered by the second order issued on Nov. 18. “With respect,” Beshear wrote, “nobody — not an election official, not a public health expert, and not a court — should make life-or-death public policy decisions on the basis of such purely anecdotal, unscientific, and faulty reasoning about the spread of COVID-19.”
Here’s the good news: Even the Supreme Court isn’t playing games with this. For now.
Last night, the Court voted 7-2 to let an earlier ruling stand — which basically means Beshear’s executive order can remain in effect. The Court said the order only applied through the end of this week, anyway — then schools have a winter break — but if there’s a new executive order in the new year, Cameron and the school can file a new lawsuit.
Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented in the matter, with Gorsuch saying they should rule on this matter now instead of waiting for a possible executive order in the new year.
It’s possible a ruling on the merits could result in a victory for conservative Christians and COVID. But for now, with any ruling becoming irrelevant by this weekend, they punted. Anytime this particular Court doesn’t act, it’s good news. It could always be worse.