Commonwealth Policy Center


KY House Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee Addresses

Religious Liberty during the COVID-19 Crisis

Date: July 1, 2020

Contact: Richard Nelson (270) 719-1640

On Tuesday, the Kentucky House Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee addressed the issue of religious liberty amid the COVID-19 crisis. Richard Nelson, the executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, testified before the committee and provided numerous examples of violations of this first freedom and government overreach in the Commonwealth.

Some examples of these violations included:

  • Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer prohibited drive-in church services while the drive-thru of liquor stores and restaurants remained open.
  • Gov. Beshear ordered the Kentucky State Police to record the license plate numbers of the members who attended an in-person worship service at Maryville Baptist Church in Bullitt County. Upon returning to their cars, they found a citation placed on their windshield stating they had committed a misdemeanor by attending their worship service.
  • As the governor began revealing the phases of reopening businesses and other institutions, he issued detailed guidance on what churches could and could not do upon reopening. His plan went so far as to tell churches they should avoid congregational singing and instead use pre-recorded music. After much criticism, he modified his recommendation.

“Instead of seeing the church as a problem to be managed by the governor and other leaders, the state could have seen the church as an essential entity to help the people of the Commonwealth in a troubled time,” Nelson said. “The church is essential in that it provides comfort to the hurting, calm to the anxious, and encouragement to the weary.”

Nelson encouraged the committee members to defend religious liberty—our first freedom. “Our Constitution protects us from government overreach into our liberty. When there’s unequal treatment toward the church or even hostility directed to the church, we must stand together,” Nelson said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, a member of a church or a non-member, we should all stand together to protect religious freedom. It’s equally important for government officials to honor the church. To respect the boundary between church and state.”

Dr. Hershael York, the pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort and the dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also testified before the committee. As a pastor, he provided first-hand testimony of the state government’s unnecessary overreach into the church.