Supreme Court Rejects Private School’s Challenge To Shutdown Order

( A Kentucky religious school lost its challenge to a state limitation on in-person instruction.

The Supreme Court ruled late last week against Danville Christian Academy’s push to have the state’s COVID-19 restrictions overturned. The school was arguing that the state’s order violated the religious rights the school has under the First Amendment, which, in part, guarantees the free exercise of religion.

In what was a brief order, the justices said the order closing in-person instruction in Kentucky “effectively expires this week or shortly thereafter, and there is no indication that it will be renewed.” The court did say that Danville Christian Academy could renew their legal challenge if Kentucky announces another school closure in 2021.

The governor’s order was keeping schools closed through January 4. Holiday break is beginning soon, too, meaning the schools would already be closed for the traditional winter break.

The court’s ruling, which was unsigned, further stated:

“We deny the application without prejudice to the applicants or other parties seeking a new preliminary injunction if the governor issues a school-closing order that applies in the new year.”

Conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito dissented in the decision. Gorsuch wrote:

“I would not leave in place yet another potentially unconstitutional decree, even for the next few weeks.”

The Democratic governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear, was pitted head-to-head against the state’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, who is a Republican. Cameron joined into the legal fight against the governor’s order.

In November, Beshear issued an executive order that required all private and public schools to close in-school instruction. If the key COVID-19 rates were to decrease in the state, some elementary schools would be able to re-open to have kids enter the school for in-person instruction.

Danville Christian Academy was arguing that Beshear’s order was discriminatory. They argued that other types of indoor activities and gatherings were allowed to continue in Kentucky. They cited the fact that gyms, bowling allies, day care centers, universities and houses of worship are all allowed to remain open.

In Beshear’s counter, lawyers said the order was meant to combat a potential spike in coronavirus infections, and that it should be allowed because it treated all schools exactly the same. Because the order applied to all public and private schools, for all grade levels, there’s no way it could be deemed to be targeting or attacking religion, the governor’s legal team said.

The Supreme Court’s decision upheld the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision, which overturned a November 25 ruling by a federal judge in Kentucky. That judge ruled in favor of the school, but the order never went into effect, since the Court of Appeals, which is based in Cincinnati, overturned it.

The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of religious institutions in New York, New Jersey and Colorado in recent weeks. Those institutions were fighting their states’ coronavirus-related restrictions.

In this case, though, the justices ruled the same thinking would not apply, since all schools were being treated equally.