Look to the Altar, Not the Throne

The Supreme Court granted injunctive relief to houses of worship previously closed under New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions on public gatherings. Justice Neil Gorsuch chided the governor for his “color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues and mosques.”

This is a tremendous step toward the restoration of order in America. Almost all Americans have lived through a chaotic year. The community, encouragement, and sacred liturgy offered by local churches are havens of order in these troubled times. Cuomo’s efforts to shutter these havens were unjustified and imprudent. Carhartt Men’s Q... Buy New $99.99 (as of 04:17 EST - Details)

“The virus has infiltrated Sunday services, church meetings and youth camps,” reported The New York Times in a July piece that was quoted extensively on news channels. Yet reports of mass outbreaks originating in churches are rather underwhelming in the grand scheme:

More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them erupting over the last month as Americans resumed their pre-pandemic activities, according to a New York Times database.

Amazon Essentials Men&... Buy New $39.00 (as of 04:17 EST - Details) Considering that there are approximately 384,000 congregations and roughly 231.7 million Christians across the United States, perhaps the 0.0001 percent of churches with mass outbreaks, between February and July, could take special precautions—they can quarantine the sick, for instance. COVID prevention should be a practical matter, addressed on a church-by-church basis. Churches in densely populated urban areas face different struggles than churches out in the hinterlands. To require all churches across an entire state to shutter their doors is to make the exception—the very small exception—the rule.

Constitutionally, the burden for closing churches should be much higher than for secular places of public accommodation, such as liquor stores. The American founders enshrined a right to the “free exercise of religion” in the First Amendment to the Constitution—a right to buy liquor is not similarly enshrined. Indeed, many of the founding stock came to America precisely because their churches were being closed by despots back in Europe.

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