Quarantine enforcement measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have motivated some state and local officials to impose restrictions that trample religious liberty underfoot.
This is extremely troubling. Unlike other voluntary restrictions imposed by organizations such as the NCAA or the NBA, these state-mandated measures carry the force of law. Church and state have an opportunity to work together to reduce the impact of the coronavirus on our communities while encouraging calmness and preserving liberty.
Religious institutions must continue to serve their local communities. Religious liberty, which is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions across America, must remain inviolate. America’s churches and religious institutions have played a central role in caring for their local communities throughout history. The coronavirus pandemic is no exception, especially as churches’ communities may be particularly burdened during this time.
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Temporary, evenly applied restrictions may be permissible. However, the 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. Moreover, the government cannot treat religious institutions unfairly compared with how it treats other comparable gatherings.
There have been a number of cases in the news recently where churches have been targeted specifically to prohibit drive-in services, including services dedicated to celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. The widely-discussed case in Greenville, Mississippi, was perhaps the most egregious. (See video here.)
In these cases, officials targeted churches for discriminatory prohibitions while allowing liquor stores, restaurants, and others to offer drive-in or curbside services. This is blatantly unconstitutional.
Send your email now, urging your governor to take immediate action to ensure that the peaceful gathering of American citizens to exercise their religion is not infringed upon by any government official or police.