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Ky. police record license plates at in-person Easter service

Departments are responding to a governor’s order requiring anyone who attends an in-person service to be referred to health departments, which will order 14-day quarantines


Kentucky troopers placed notices on the vehicles of parishioners attending an in-person Easter service at Maryville Baptist Church.


Sarah Ladd
Louisville Courier-Journal

HILLVIEW, Ky. — As Maryville Baptist Church moved forward with its in-person Easter service Sunday morning, Kentucky State Police troopers were recording the license plates and placing notices on the roughly 50 cars parked outside of the congregation.

The action related to license plates came as a result of an order that Gov. Andy Beshear announced Friday as part of ongoing efforts to keep Kentuckians from further spreading COVID-19.

Following Beshear’s license plate order, which applies anyone who attends an in-person church service or any mass gathering, police will refer those motorists to local health departments, which will then order 14-day quarantines.

More than an hour before Maryville Baptist Church began worship, the Rev. Jack Roberts had to call for help to clean up piles of nails scattered at the entrances to the church parking lot.

The nails appeared to have been dumped at the entrances to block cars from entering the church that is in the Bullitt County community of Hillview, just south of the Jefferson County line.

Roberts had been determined to move forward with the 11 a.m. Easter service at Maryville Baptist Church despite repeated pleas from Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear to shift to virtual services and a March 19 executive order prohibiting faith-based mass gatherings amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this week, the Baptist congregation also received a state-backed order from the Bullitt County Health Department to cease in-person gatherings “immediately.”

But the church has not backed down during this Holy Week, holding a Wednesday evening service that drew roughly 40 attendees.

Beshear’s order for police to record license plates has drawn criticism from numerous Republicans who represent Kentucky at the state and federal level, including Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Thomas Massie as well as Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

Roberts has said he is “not interested in trying to defy the government,” but believes his church has a constitutional right to continue to hold worship services inside his church.

On Sunday, Roberts said he would not encourage or discourage compliance with any quarantine orders. The pastor did cover the license plate on his own vehicle.

Just after 10 a.m., when Sunday school was beginning, no law enforcement could be spotted outside of the church.

Five or so cars were initially parked in the church’s lot, with a few more lined up on the outskirts. Several vehicles had covered up their license plates.

Beshear has mentioned in recent weeks how numerous churches have held mass gatherings in defiance of his order that is aimed at limiting the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

On the eve of Easter Sunday, Beshear said he knew of only seven mass gatherings planned for the weekend.

“To our knowledge, 99.89% of all churches and all synagogues and all mosques in Kentucky have chosen to do the right thing,” Beshear said during his Saturday briefing. “I’m just doing my best to save lives. And there aren’t easy answers.”

The governor added that the state is not going to “padlock doors or arrest pastors.”

Recording license plate numbers, he said, is an effort to “say that if you’re going to make the decision to go to a mass gathering during this pandemic, it shouldn’t affect other people.”

In Eastern Kentucky, Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley said Sunday morning that Kentucky State Police had met with pastors, several of whom opted for drive-in instead of in-person services.

Mosley had said in a Facebook post on Saturday that he was aware of 10 churches in his county that were planning in-person Easter services.

The Harlan County official noted how a church revival across the state in Hopkins County as well a church gathering in Pulaski County have led to outbreaks of COVID-19 cases.

To the churches that were still planning in-person gatherings, Mosley said “just know you are putting your members in harm’s way unlike the hundreds of churches in our county that are doing it the right way and having virtual or drive-up services.”