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School’s out, for now

Religious Liberty | Kentucky Christian school loses bid to reopen during pandemic
by Steve West
Posted 12/18/20, 05:11 pm

A Supreme Court ready for a break punted a religious liberty case on Thursday. The justices denied a Kentucky Christian school’s request to reopen after Gov. Andy Beshear shuttered it.

The four-paragraph, unsigned order by the 7-2 majority declined to consider Danville Christian Academy’s arguments, instead noting the governor’s executive order expired when holiday break began on Friday. The court said the school could reapply for relief if the governor extended the closure after the planned first day of classes on Jan. 4.

Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented. While a ruling would have little effect right before Christmas, Alito said “it is unfair to deny relief on this ground since the timing is in no way the applicants’ fault.” The school filed the request on Nov. 20. Alito emphasized the majority’s order did not mean the justices rejected the school’s argument.

In a separate opinion, Gorsuch faulted the appeals court for ignoring the many activities permitted under a separate executive order regarding businesses in Kentucky, saying a governor shouldn’t “be able to evade judicial review by issuing short-term edicts and then urging us to overlook their problems only because one edict is set to expire while the next has yet to arrive.”

First Liberty Institute President Kelly Shackelford, who represented the school, said Danville Christian Academy plans to refile if Beshear reissues the order on Jan. 4.

Kentucky is not the only state where religious schools are fighting to reopen. The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) is tracking similar challenges in Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Oregon.

Earlier this month, the Michigan Association of Nonpublic Schools and three schools filed a federal lawsuit challenging a Dec. 7 order closing religious high schools. After a hearing Monday, the court declined to rule immediately.

In Toledo, Ohio, three Christian schools and a statewide organization of evangelical and Catholic institutions appealed on Tuesday after a federal court rejected their bid to reopen. The court reasoned the order treated all schools—public and private—the same.

And in Oregon, Hermiston Christian School is challenging Gov. Kate Brown’s order shutting down its in-person classes. Small public schools are allowed to open while their private counterparts must remain closed.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron joined Danville Christian Academy’s lawsuit challenging Beshear’s closure order. “It is arbitrary in our view that again kids of school age can go to the movies, then go to a retail store to do Christmas shopping but cannot go to school,” Cameron told WCHS-TV. “There is something innately and inherently wrong with that.”

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Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @slntplanet.

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