“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, except in certain cases”. Sound familiar? I’m sure the beginning sounded very familiar to a lot of you, but I added on the ending myself because it is much more representative of its current interpretation. Churches were among those organizations deemed “non-essential” and are thus shut-down for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. People have been banned from worshipping together and NYC’s Mayor Bill de Blasio went as far as to say that he would permanently shut down churches if they continued to hold services. All of this is happening in a clear violation of the First Amendment.
Some people may be arguing that it’s for the greater good, or that because the government is shutting down all non-essential business (rather than just churches) it would actually violate the establishment clause to allow churches to remain open. To illustrate the failure of both these arguments, let’s look back to some Supreme Court cases:
To the first point about the allowance of government infringement on the first amendment due to some “greater good”, we look to the 1972 case of Wisconsin vs. Yoder. A state requirement mandated that all children go to school until at least age 16. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that religious exemptions be made so that an Amish family could remove their kids from school at an earlier age. Surely the state’s law served a greater good by making the general population more educated, but the Supreme Court shot it down anyways. If you were to look you will find other instances where the court seems to make the alternative decision, but there are many extraneous factors that led to those decisions.
Perhaps a strong case could be made against the argument above if the government was truly shutting down every business, but because the government is making declarations as to what is considered essential and non-essential I believe one of the supreme court’s oldest 1st amendment cases applies. Cantwell vs. Connecticut involved a family of Jehova’s witnesses that were proselytizing in a Catholic neighborhood and, unsurprisingly, frustrated some of the residents. When arrested for not having a license to solicit religious messages, the Cantwells went to the Supreme Court on the grounds of 1A protection. The court unanimously ruled that the statute in question was unconstitutional specifically because it allowed the local government to make decisions on what they considered to be “religious”. The same logic can be applied here, where the government deems something a “religious gathering” and thus shuts it down.
All of this is not to say that places of worship wouldn’t be smart to put limitations on occupancy or make the decision to temporarily close. This has nothing to do with the chances of spreading disease in a normal church service (which is quite high), but It cannot be stressed enough how vital the difference is between a church choosing to close its doors and the government forcing it to.
What should be even more sickening to Christians is looking at exactly what has been allowed to stay open during this time. It is a slap in the face to believers everywhere that they are banned from attending any sort of religious service while abortion clinics and liquor stores remain open for business. This is the manifestation of a country that has fallen away from God. It’s not news to anybody that the United States government is among the most morally corrupt groups on the planet. What has changed is that the constitution is no longer serving as the shield that protects the average citizen from the government’s immoral spear.
The country will rid itself of Coronavirus, but if we allow the government to continue this horrific infringement of our rights as citizens then we will never go back to being the country that Madison, Franklin, and Washington dreamt of. If you are ignorant enough to believe this is ok because the government is expanding its power for only the duration of the pandemic to protect its citizens, then I urge you to look back on history. The Nazi Party was born in the aftermath of World War One’s economic fallout in which German citizens became overly dependent on their government. The constitution wasn’t designed to be followed only during normal times; it was designed to be followed all the time.