Other than being called “a moron and not a pastor” (I am retired from the latter); suspected as suffering from depression (I am melancholy by nature); being lumped into a group of “far left Dems” (far from it); and it being suggested that I get out and do something positive for the community – a few of the many expressions of opposition to what I’ve written on the subject of church restrictions during the pandemic – I thought it might be helpful to review, summarize, and update, for now, the general arguments for church compliance and the general arguments against church compliance (some of the latter obtained from individuals reacting to what I wrote in which cases the individuals responding are quoted but not named).
Thank you everyone who has engaged in this ongoing debate!
And, in any case, whether the reader is for or against, still the goal (mine anyway) is that hopefully a stronger church, and a clearer understanding of what constitutes church, will emerge.
From the articles I’ve written and the responses:
- Severely Restricting Religious Freedom During COVID-19 Is Not Intolerable
- Frogs In A Kettle, Sheep In His Pasture
- When To Say “No”
Arguments in favor of church compliance during this pandemic:
1. Pushing religious liberty at the expense of public health is antithetical to a church shepherd’s proper concern for his sheep.
Leeman and Dever (Jonathan Leeman, editorial director of 9Marks, and Mark Dever, president of the church-equipping ministry of 9Marks) discussed whether the government ‘can require us not to do something,’ such as meeting together.
“Dever said it can, provided it ‘is a temporary request’ and the order isn’t directed only toward churches and religious gatherings. The order also must be for the purpose of ‘public health – our own health [and] the health of our neighbors,’ Dever said.
“Both men referenced blackout requirements for coastal cities during World War II to prevent attacks from Germany and Japan. Dever said of the World War II requirement, ‘The state is not going to do this forever. The state is not just aiming this at churches. The state is doing this for the public health, for the public good – and for the good of your neighbor.’”
2. Such restrictions do not cause “irreparable harm.”
The “irreparable harm” doctrine argues that the type of harm threatened creates conditions that cannot one day be put back the way they were. (See Leeman and Dever above).
3. The nature of the crisis
“Washington could face a ‘catastrophic loss of medical care’ in the coming weeks if the increase in COVID-19 cases continues,” (Seattle Times, November 28).
“US is ‘rounding the corner into a calamity,’ with COVID-19 deaths projected to double soon” (recent CNN headline).
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissenting opinion to the 5-4 majority wrote (NBC News, November 27, by Raul A. Reyes), “The Court’s ruling will only exacerbate the Nation’s suffering,” Sotomayor adding that Americans testing positive for COVID-19 are “a million each week.”
4. The Constitution does allow for such restrictions.
“The Constitution does not forbid States from responding to public health crises through regulations that treat religious institutions equally or more favorably than comparable secular institutions,” wrote Sotomayor, “particularly when these regulations save lives.”
“The freedom to worship is one of our most cherished fundamental rights, but it does not include a license to harm others or endanger public health,” said Daniel Mach, the director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s freedom of religion and belief program (New York Times, Nov. 26, Jesse McKinley and Liam Stack).
Arguments against church compliance during this pandemic:
1. Conspiracy theory: Government is actually wanting control; is on a power trip.
Some of the statements espousing this theory:
“It is only one step in the process to control.”
“By putting these restrictions on people, they are testing the waters, so to speak. What they really want to do is dominate us, run our lives. It’s power they want. If we don’t put a stop to it, there will come a time when we can’t stop it.”
“This whole Covid 19 was a set up and over blown to interfere with our economy and our elections.”
“Progressives have long worked to discredit, marginalize and drive religious faith out of the public discourse because it’s principles, standard and precepts threaten the quest for power and control.”
“The real problem is that once you allow those in power to destroy one piece of the Constitution you open the door to more. What’s your choice for a second piece of your freedom are you willing to let someone take away from you? There’s a much bigger picture, and don’t for a moment think that those who are toying with your rights today aren’t looking at that bigger picture.”
Pastor Tony Spell, of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, filed a lawsuit in May 2020, (rejected by the Supreme Court) “after he was charged with violating state-mandated restrictions placed because of the coronavirus pandemic. He said the ban on in-person gatherings is not about safety, rather it is ‘politically motivated’ and part of an orchestrated ‘attack on all Christians across the world.’”
“‘Just a quick run through history,’ the pastor (John MacArthur, Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA) began. ‘Go back to Julius Caesar. Go back to Napoleon. Go into the modern era. Every revolution – including Hitler’s revolution and the revolution in Russia – every revolution took place in a time when the powers of the people in authority were enlarged because of a supposed emergency.’
“‘Power-hungry people are using this emergency to gain greater power,’ MacArthur said of COVID-19. ‘This is historic. This is nothing new, and if people don’t fight back, they’re going to fall victim to whatever the intention of this revolution is.’”
2. The Constitution does not allow such restrictions.
“The First Amendment is what it is. The State has no right to interfere with the Church.”
“However heavy, however light, restrictions on establishments of religion are restricted by the 1st amendment.”
“Restrictions upon an establishment of religion is a violation of the 1st Amendment, whatever the reason and/or however administered.”
“Defending our constitutional rights is the duty of a free citizenry. ‘Emergencies’ do not eliminate that responsibility. COVID-19 does not void the First Amendment. To be legitimate, ‘emergency’ measures need to have a definite end. Continuing to move the goal posts is not acceptable. They must also be consistent in application and not arbitrary. The various state lockdowns have no definitive end and are arbitrary in application.”
“The emergency powers granted the Governor of Washington State give him authority for 30 days. After that he has to have approval from the legislature if in session or from the 2 ranking members, one democrat and one republican of the House and Senate for a total of 3 out of 4 to extend his power. It was granted for 30 days and then they would not give him an extension. I have not heard of them extending it. So, that means ALL of his emergency declarations may have been against the WAC’s.”
Rebuttal: “Incorrect. RCW 43.06.220 (1) gives the Governor unchecked emergency powers. The end of the emergency is at his discretion. The Legislature’s approval was not needed for the initial orders. Only certain suspensions and waivers of state regulations and taxes under RCW 43.06.220 (2) require extensions from the Legislature.
3. Such restrictions cause “irreparable harm.”
The Supreme Court’s midnight hour ruling, according to LifeSiteNews, “added that by violating the First Amendment rights, ‘There can be no question that the challenged restrictions, if enforced, will cause irreparable harm.’”
“People weren’t made to be isolated and Zoom is not a viable form of fellowship for worship.”
“‘Irreparable damage’ to religious assembly can be death from depression from lack of seeking your pastor or priest’s wisdom, or the joy of visiting with your fellow church members, especially if you live alone and perhaps are recently widowed or a widower. Despair from the negativity of the main stream news, also causes this depression that freedom of assembly of church can negate by rejuvenating hope and fellowship.”
4. Churches can act responsibly while continuing to meet during this crisis.
5. Restrictions are hypocritically and unfairly applied or not applied at all.
“Strip clubs, weed shops, liquor stores, casinos, maskless protests (in the latter case appealing to the same First Amendment), etc., are allowed to remain open, continue, but churches, synagogues, mosques are unduly targeted.”
6. It is not government’s job to look out for our safety.