State and local governments are mandating public measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some political officials, in their attempt to minimize the spread, have imposed restrictions that violate citizens’ constitutional liberty.
I want you to be aware of your fundamental rights, including religious liberty, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly. Furthermore, I encourage you to remind your political leaders of these rights.
Email your governor and state legislators now! Constitutional rights are a nonpartisan issue. Regardless of political party affiliation, our leaders need to be reminded of our constitutional rights. Insist they protect your constitutional liberty during this pandemic. Send them a message now.
If the government restricts constitutional rights during times of crisis, restrictions must:
- Be temporary.
- Be evenly applied.
- Not substantially burden the free exercise of religion without a compelling governmental interest.
- Use the least burdensome approach to achieve that interest if a compelling interest exist.
Government’s temporary, evenly applied restrictions may be permissible. However, government may not substantially burden the free exercise of religion unless it has a compelling reason for doing so, and even then, it must use the least burdensome approach that achieves that compelling interest. Temporary action to reduce the spread of a global pandemic is almost certainly a compelling reason, so long as the government is not treating religious institutions differently or unfairly compared with how it treats other comparable institutions and/or gatherings. For example, the government can’t place more restrictive limits on attendance at religious functions than the limits it places on nonreligious entities—like a supermarket or building supply store.
Even in times of crisis, constitutional rights, such as religious liberty, don’t ebb and flow. Instead, liberty is cemented in our nation’s founding documents—the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. These rights are unchangeable. Yet, reports indicate state and local governments treat them as fluid and have violated these rights.
For example, on April 7 in Greenville, Mississippi, Mayor Errick Simmons (D) issued an order banning all church services, including church drive-in services. The city’s police department enforced the order and ticketed church members with $500 fines for attending a drive-in church service.
Mayor Simmons’ unconstitutional actions prompted a response from U.S. Attorney General William Barr (R). He publicly criticized the mayor’s decision saying:
In times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers. Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity. Religious institutions must not be singled out for special burdens.
In the Garden State of New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy (D) recently issued an executive order banning large gatherings, closing all state parks, and requiring residents to stay at home. Under Gov. Murphy’s order, 15 men were arrested for attending a synagogue service. During a Fox News interview with Tucker Carlson, Gov. Murphy was asked about his constitutional basis for his order that led to the arrest of the 15 men. Gov. Murphy said:
That's above my pay grade, Tucker. I wasn't thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this (executive order). … We looked at all the data and the science, and it says people have to stay away from each other. That is the best thing we can do to break the back of the curve of this virus, that leads to lower hospitalization and ultimately fatalities.
Gov. Murphy’s response is a glaring example of the willful lack of consideration of constitutional liberty during times of crisis. Across the country, governors, legislators, and mayors must be reminded of our constitutional rights and that constitutional liberty must remain intact, even during a pandemic such as the COVID-19 crisis.
Send your governor and state legislators an email now! Remind them of their sworn oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.