The Founding Fathers recognized a Creator (God) as expressly stated in the Declaration of Independence. They acknowledged that all men are created equal, that these Truths are self-evident, and that their rights were unalienable – i.e. they cannot be denied, taken away or transferred. Furthermore, they expressed that the stated purpose of Government was to make these rights secure.

So as to assure that there was no confusion with regard to the religious liberty granted every American, an amendment to the Constitution was added, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

As America faces this global pandemic, American citizens must understand that constitutional liberties are at stake. We must be ready to define and defend the religious liberties that have been intricately woven into the fabric of our great country. It is vital that we remind one another that the freedom of assembly, and all other “essential” liberties are NOT granted by the government. Rather, they were recognized and acknowledged by our Founders as rights given by the Creator.

In Greenville, Mississippi, uniformed officers started handing out tickets carrying a $500 fine to members in the church parking lot, sitting in their cars listening to a sermon from their pastor.

The use of police force (or the threat thereof) against those attending a drive-in worship service is an unprecedented threat against religious freedom. Government has many options at their disposal – the use of police must never be used without more than a preponderance of justification and a solid constitutional foundation.

In Mendocino County, California, the Department of Public Health said churches could stream their services but could not sing. The governor of Kansas signed an executive order forbidding churches to meet (even in parking lots). In Nevada the governor there banned drive-in church services.

To be clear, I believe that Christians certainly have a duty out of love of neighbor to comply with general policies — policies that apply equally to everyone. To specifically target and single out religion, implementing and mandating policies that are not applied to other groups of society is a violation of religious liberty.

From CNN we saw the headline: “Louisville Police Officers to Record License Plate Numbers of Easter Weekend Church-goers.” Each participant in a drive-in church service would be contacted by the Health Department and ordered to self-quarantine for fourteen days. Fortunately, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order in which the judge said, “The mayor’s decision is stunning, and it is ‘beyond all reason’ unconstitutional.”

Authorities cannot intrude upon the integrity of Christian worship, which is precisely what these orders violate. Governments are justified in ruling that all mass assemblies ought to cease for a definable period of time. That is rational policy. But it also means that authorities must do everything not to single out any religious institution. They also must be careful not to minimize or demean religious services and organizations as “nonessential.”

Professing Christians have taken for granted religious liberty. While unequivocally expressing the essential nature of Church, they have neglected the assembling of the Saints. Church has been relegated to a low priority. As Nietzsche pointed out decades ago, and rightly so, the Church is in decline – whose fault is it anyway?

Society needs Church. We need Church. A place that communicates hope – together.

(5) comments

ArizAl

Stephen hair makes a good point. Donald Trump and his adminstration were violating the constitution when he banned people of the Muslim faith from seeking asylum in the U.S. based strictly on their belief in God. Having said that, it does seem that Mr. Hair may not be aware that the Declaration of Independence is just that...a declaration of independence from the King of England and is not to be confused with the U.S. Constitution which defines the purpose of our established government (Preamble) and it is the "Law of the Land." He is also confusing "Liberties" with "Constitutional Rights." In the case of Liberties, people all over the world as long as they have "Free Will" have the liberties to do as they want, good, bad, or indifferent. Of course, exercising certain liberties has consequences and can get you in trouble with other individuals,or with government. "Constitutional Rights" are enumerated Rights given the people to exercise their liberties in such a way that do not cause any harm to the rest of society.(the people) It is because of that fact and the fact that we chuse to live as a collective society, that constitutional jurisprudence has deemed our "Constitutional Rights" are not absolute. Example: 1st Amendment right of free speech does not give anyone the constitutional right to falsely yell Fire! in crowded building thereby causing injury or death to many. Although, any person doing that has the liberty to do so,but not without legal consequences. We are a nation of laws. The question Stephen Hair should be asking himself is: Considering that the republican President of the Uniteded States has declared the contagious Covid-19 pandemic a "National Crisis," is temporary limiting the right of assembly unreasonable? No it isn't, it does not take away his Constitutional Right to believe in his religion or his Liberties to practice as they see fit as long as it does not expose or cause other people harm. Amendment IX of the Constitution: "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." When you die, you don't have any rights at all. The constitution also gives the U.S. government it established, the power and authority to "Provide/ Promote the General Welfare" of all it's citizens.

ronzim

Here is a quote from CDC’s web site, “State, Local, and Tribal Law:

States have police power functions to protect the health, safety, and welfare of persons within their borders. To control the spread of disease within their borders, states have laws to enforce the use of isolation and quarantine.

These laws can vary from state to state and can be specific or broad. In some states, local health authorities implement state law. In most states, breaking a quarantine order is a criminal misdemeanor.

Tribes also have police power authority to take actions that promote the health, safety, and welfare of their own tribal members. Tribal health authorities may enforce their own isolation and quarantine laws within tribal lands, if such laws exist.”

It is quite clear from our history that civil rights may be legally suspended, temporarily, in cases of quarantine in order to protect public health. There is no exception for religion.

I also note that another federal court has refused a church petition against the governor’s ban on mass meetings. In neither case was religious activity singled out. It remains to be seen what happens on appeal. The city of Louisville has photographic evidence of the close personal contact being engaged in at the drive-in rites; however, the judge refused to allow it to be presented. What is clear, however, is that these congregationists were willfully and recklessly spreading the virus in some mistaken belief that religious freedom trumps public health safety.

2rusty

One quibble I have with Rev. Hair's thoughtful column is his assertion that the general population, out of love of neighbor, should have to comply with policies that apply to everyone. In some cases, yes. In the case of covid-19, no.

If you or a dependent loved one are fragile or infectious, then YOU need to take care of and protect others from yourself. The general population should not have been forced into defensive mode against this any more than we are against the annual flu which kills tens of thousands. Our economy has been severely damaged by agenda-driven fear-mongering by the mainstream media.

ronzim

As we see, Rusty’s comments are typical of those who react to the pandemic with emotion and ideology rather than science. There is no equivalence between COVID-19 and influenza which means there is no comparability in the effective means of prevention and mitigation. To begin with, the WHO now reports that the death rate of COVID-19 is 3.4%. The CDC reports that our death rate from the annual influenza is 0.1%. That is to say, the death rate from COVID-19 is at least 34 time that of the flu, which makes COVID vastly more lethal. In addition, the average number of people who will be infected by a COVID patient is more than twice that of flu; thus, not only is COVID far more deadly, it spreads at a much higher rate.

Rusty also makes the reckless assertion that “If you or a dependent loved one are fragile or infectious, then YOU need to take care of and protect others from yourself.” First, as we already see, there are many persons who are personally irresponsible and dangerous in this environment. They cannot be constrained without a general order. Even then some continue to flaunt public health dangers. Second, there is no way for individuals to know whether they are infected or not because of the high incidence of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic carriers of the disease. What is more, we have the proof in hand that population-wide distancing, in concert with testing, tracing and isolation works, and, absent a proven therapy or vaccine, is the only way to suppress the illness.

Finally, we come to yet another backwards conspiracy theory: “Our economy has been severely damaged by agenda-driven fear-mongering by the mainstream media.” As usual, Rusty and his ilk provide not one example of the “agenda” nor any proven examples of fear-mongering by the mainstream media.” My observation is that the data provided by the MSM has been validated by science and many scientists, and that the level of public concern is about where it should be at this stage, in large part because of the accurate and professional reporting of the MSM. Present polling reveals that about 80% of Americans agree that the current policies of distancing are vital to recovery.

Gpnabhan

Stephen Hair makes a valuable connection between Constututionally-guaranteed religious liberties and current government actions that may restrict or impede such liberties. But the most greivous action the federal government has taken to impede religious liberties is by building a border wall that has threatened chapels, Christian and Native American cemetaries, shrines and sacred sites of tribes along the border from South Texas all the way to the California coast. Native American religious liberties, their sacred sites, ceremonial plants and spring waters are also protected by the First Amendment. It is time all Christians and Jews stand up for the spiritual freedom of Apace, Tohono O;odhan, Cocopa and Quechan tribes being threatened by wall construcion and even road closures in National Parks and Monuments. As an Ecumenical Franciscan Brother who has worked in Indian country for forty years, I urge all Arizona citizens--native and non-native to demand that the border wall and related groundwater pumping stop within sight or earshot of any Native American or Christian place of worship--outdoors or indoors--along the entire border. If one faith loses its religious liberties--including Native Amerivan faiths--the precedent is there for all of our Constitutionally-protected religious liberties to be eroded. Write Paul Enriquez, director of border wall construction for Homeland Security--to demand that he stop violating the religious liberties of Arizonans by continuing to build a wall that cuts ancient places of worship in half. Brother Coyote, OEF

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