U.S. court makes big ruling on church fighting COVID lockdowns

(Photo by Joe Kovacs)
(Photo by Joe Kovacs)

A federal appeals court has ruled that a church fighting the Kentucky governor’s order to shut down worship during COVID actually won the case.

And so a district judge now must consider awarding costs and fees to the prevailing party.

The announcement comes from Liberty Counsel, which represented Maryville Baptist Church in its fight with Gov. Andy Beshear.

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The church had obtained a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of Beshear’s lockdown demand, but even so, the lower court failed to follow through and consider an award of costs and fees.

Now the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed that.

Gov. Andy Beshear, D-Ky. (YouTube video screenshot)

“In a 3-0 opinion, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sent Liberty Counsel’s case, Maryville Baptist Church, et al v. Andy Beshear, back for the district court to reconsider its previous ruling that found the church was not the ‘prevailing party,'” Liberty Counsel explained.

“Today’s ruling sets aside the district court order and directs the lower court to reconsider the case in light of a similar ruling by the Sixth Circuit finding prevailing party status involving the same incident and the same church. Prevailing party status would entitle the plaintiffs to attorney’s fees and costs,” Liberty Counsel said.

Liberty Counsel chief Mat Staver said, “Liberty Counsel secured all the relief sought on behalf of Maryville Baptist Church and is entitled to prevailing party status which includes attorney’s fees and costs. Now churches in Kentucky are free to worship without the intrusion of Gov. Andy Beshear since the courts blocked the governor’s unconstitutional restrictions on churches and places of worship. We are pleased with the ruling from the court of appeals. The handwriting is now on the wall that Maryville Baptist Church should be awarded prevailing party status.”

The legal team explained, “On Easter Sunday 2020, Kentucky State Police troopers came to Maryville Baptist Church to fulfill Governor Beshear’s threat to target anyone who attended a church service against his worship ban. The church was allowing a small number of people to assemble inside its 700-seat sanctuary, spread far apart, and had also set up speakers in its parking lot for ‘drive-in’ worship. The police wrote down license plate numbers and placed quarantine notices on every car, including those containing people who had come for the drive-in service. All worshippers whose cars were noticed in the parking lot on Easter Sunday also received a letter from Gov. Beshear’s administration demanding their agreement to take their temperatures and report every day to the county health authority, not attend church, work, school, stores, and other public places; not travel outside the county; not travel outside of Kentucky without prior approval; and not travel by public, commercial, or emergency conveyance such as a bus, taxi, airplane, train, or boat without prior approval.”

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Liberty Counsel noted another case previously had been resolved, Roberts v. Neace, where the plaintiffs also attended Maryville Baptist and already have been awarded attorney’s fees.

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