April 5, 2023

This Easter season, Kentuckians should remember that our freedom to attend church and worship is never more than one power-hungry politician away from disappearing.

Why? Because three years ago, Governor Andy Beshear attempted to strip them of that very God-given right. 

While many institutions sought to take away our liberty during the pandemic, no singular action more plainly diminished Kentuckians’ rights than Governor Beshear’s Easter executive order and his subsequent deployment of the police to community churches.

His now infamous executive order went into effect back in March of 2020. Though a fundamental right enshrined in our Constitution, the freedom to peacefully assemble and practice our faith was evidently erased by executive order without a single vote cast by Kentuckians. 

The Governor’s measure carried the Orwellian nickname, ‘Healthy at Home’. Ironically, studies have since shown that staying indoors during the pandemic was anything but healthy. 

press release from the Governor’s office sounded more like George Orwell’s 1984 than an official statement, “warning anyone planning to attend an in-person mass gathering this weekend that they will face quarantine orders.” The release further made the accusation that these orders were necessary, for a Kentuckian’s decision to attend church on Easter Sunday could, “kill someone else.”

In theory, a claim of that magnitude would be based on scientific evidence, but none was offered. In reality, studies, like this one from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, show that the lockdowns did nothing to slow the spread. 

Thus, Easter Sunday of 2020, the holiest day in the Christian faith, unfolded like an authoritarian power-grab more fit for the pages of a dystopian novel than the reality of religious Americans living in civil society.

Not all churches abided the mandate. Churchgoers unwilling to bend to secular tyranny still attended Easter service. With open arms they invited their neighbors to join in worship. 

For Governor Beshear, no good deed went unpunished.

Dr. Jack Roberts, the pastor at Maryville Baptist Church, was met with nails on the road when he arrived to preach that Sunday. Still, his congregation of 50 people showed in an inspiring act of defiance. Attendees traveled from across the country, from as far as New Jersey, to demonstrate solidarity with the cause of religious freedom.

Governor Beshear’s enforcement officers descended on parked cars to record license plates. If the license plate was obscured, troopers recorded the VIN number instead. Kentucky State Police then issued notices, warning occupants that, “the local health department will be contacting those associated with this vehicle with self-quarantine documents.”

The Maryville Baptist Church saga punctuated an ongoing battle between God and Kentucky government. The day prior, a federal court decided a case between the city of Louisville and drive-in churchgoers. Mind you, the service in question followed CDC guidelines. Even the cars were spaced 6 feet apart. The best repudiation of the dictate to forgo drive-in service came from Judge Walker’s temporary restraining order, calling it a “criminalization” of Easter.

What fair Executive would treat peaceful churchgoers as criminals? No law-abiding citizen should be tracked or forced to stay home for exercising their constitutional right. Pandemic or not. At least Governor Beshear decided against strapping ankle monitors to quarantine-offenders.

The separation of church and state is a deeply American principle, and so too is disobedience in the face of tyranny. In America’s past, an assault on the free exercise of religion had revolutionary consequences. Colonial America revolted at the imposition of a tax to pay for the Church of England. Kentuckians rightly rejected the Governor’s unconstitutional COVID mandate.

Thanks to the court system, religious activists, and our state legislature, the threat to our liberty has temporarily abated. But, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

Accordingly, as families gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ this Easter, remember the constitutional framework that our founding fathers prudently set for us. Remember the precariousness of our rights, even the right to worship, in the face of petty tyrants. Remember that Governor Beshear tried to deprive every Kentuckian of that right just three years ago. 

And, above all, remember that our rights come from God, not government, and they can always be taken back.

You can read the op-ed HERE.