LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of four protesters alleges that Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear violated First Amendment rights over restrictions to keep protesters at a distance during daily COVID-19 briefings.
The lawsuit asks for a temporary restraining order and/or injunction prohibiting the following:
- Criminal charges and/or enforcement against them
- Government agents forcing them into quarantine, where there is no evidence they are sick or have been exposed to the Coronavirus
- Governmental action preventing them from attending peaceful political protests and rallies at the Capitol subject to certain restrictions. Plaintiffs further seek a preliminary injunction against the Governor’s orders that prohibit them from engaging in political protests at the Capitol under the Governor’s mass gathering order (including drive-in protests).
In a motion filed Monday, the plaintiffs are seeking an "expedited hearing and decision in this matter" due a planned protest on May 23, 2020.
"(Beshear) is going to trample constitutional right until the court calls him on it," said Chris Wiest, one of the three attorneys representing the protesters.
The plaintiffs include four northern Kentucky residents who have protested at the Capitol. They are Tom Ramsek, Frank Harris, Theodore "TJ" Roberts and Tony Wheatley. The four have protested at the Capitol and claim the governor prevented their peaceful protests at times, violating their First Amendment rights.
The day following an April 15 protest during Beshear's daily COVID-19 briefing, the lawsuit highlights barriers that were erected with threats of criminal prosecution.
The roof of a parking garage at the Capitol became what the lawsuit calls a "Restricted Speech Zone," where protesters were told they could congregate if they remained in their cars.
Attorneys say the zone is "nothing short of an unconstitutional effort to silence dissent and push inconvenient, but peaceful, protesters out of sight."
Documents say one of the plaintiffs attempted to take advantage of the zone but that Kentucky State Police blocked the entrance as well.
"The state police had that parking garage blocked off," Wiest told WDRB News. "To set up a Restricted Speech Zone and then not allow people to use it — that's a problem."
When asked about the lawsuit during his daily coronavirus briefing, Beshear said, “My concern is so many people who are leading these rallies don't believe this thing is real.”
Beshear added that he is not trying to stifle the demonstrations, and no one has been cited or arrested.
“I want people to be able to speak out. I want them to be able to disagree with me,” he said. “I want them to be able to protest, but I want them to do it safely, that's all.”
While Beshear said he had no problem with protesters opposing his executive orders, he admitted he did not like the message a few of them were sending.
"I do not think it's OK to be waving confederate flags during rallies. I guess you can do that. It's your right of free speech, but it's really wrong and sends a message of hate," he said.
Attorneys representing the protesters in the federal suit hope a judge will grant the temporary restraining order and/or injunction prior to the scheduled May 23rd rally.
"Now's the time to stand up for it, not years later when people want to look back in hindsight and say 'We should've stood up for the first amendment there,'" attorney Tom Bruns said. "Now is the time."
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