Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb responds to a question during an interview, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
One of the central features of the alleged countermeasures taken to stem the dreaded tide of Wuhan virus is how those countermeasures seem to focus on limiting the civil liberties of Americans. Last week I posted on the subject [see We Have Sacrificed Our Constitutional Freedoms to Fight a Virus; Will We Ever Get Them Back?] and just a little earlier this evening my colleague, Betsy Vaughn, posted on just how enthusiastically our elected officials are taking to the task of running our lives [see State and Municipal Officials Seem to be Enjoying Their Power a Little Too Much]. Curiously, one of the primary targets of this mindless enforcement of equally mindless (in my view) restrictions on liberty has been the way that religion has been singled out for suppression.
Here are just a few examples.
NY City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatens to permanently close any place of worship that ignores his diktat.
The use of the word “permanently” transforms this from the realm of potentially defensible short-term measure into the realm of profound malice and disgrace. https://t.co/HqZjHHy9Q3
— Josh Hammer (@josh_hammer) March 29, 2020
A Hillsborough County, FL, minister is arrested for holding workship.
This is the face of tyranny.
Hillsborough Country Sheriff @HCSOSheriff arrests a Tampa Bay pastor for holding Sunday services.
Listen to this authoritarian thug smugly justify.
By the way, the "orders" by the President and CDC are just recommendations and have no force of law. https://t.co/EWK6V4qXu9
— Mark Pantano (@TheMarkPantano) March 30, 2020
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Tuesday that “with a heavy heart” he will not allow drive-in religious services during this week of Passover and Easter.
“This is a big sacrifice for people of faith,” he said. “This coronavirus does not care about traditions. It does not care about faith.”
This week, those of the Jewish faith will celebrate Passover, which begins Wednesday evening, and Christians are celebrating Holy Week ahead of Easter on Sunday.
But communal Seder meals, church celebrations and group Easter egg hunts can’t happen, Fischer said, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to infect and kill Kentuckians.
The mayor called on faith leaders to not put their congregants at risk and asked those who belong to a church that is defying Fischer’s request [italics mine] to contact their minister or the city’s 311 line.
These are the orders issued by Indiana’s Republican Governor Eric Holcomb:
To continue safely serving their communities, faith institutions are directed as follows:
Church buildings and other physical locations for worship should be closed.
Livestream or other virtual services are best.
The minimum number of necessary personnel should be used at all times for any services.
Staff and volunteers who are not speaking should wear masks.
Drive-in services may be conducted only under these conditions:
Attendees must be inside vehicles at all times.
Attendees should not interact physically with clergy, staff or participants in other vehicles.
Vehicles should contain only members of a single household. Do not bring your neighbors or others outside of your household.
Cars must be spaced the equivalent of every other parking spot or approximately 9 feet apart.
No one may exit a vehicle at any time.
Portable bathrooms are not allowed on the premises and no church facilities may be used by attendees.
It is preferred that no communion be distributed.
In instances when communion is distributed, only prepackaged communion may be used and must be prepared and distributed in a manner that meets food safety standards.
The following individuals who are vulnerable and at higher risk for illness should not attend:
Persons who are 65 years and older.
Those who have severe underlying medical conditions, like heart or lung disease or diabetes.
Individuals who are sick.
A court battle looms as the state legislature challenges an order by Democrat Governor Laura Kelly to limit church services to no more than 10 persons.
Democrat Governor Steve Sisolak has also banned religious gatherings of more than 10 people.
As best I can tell, Washingon, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Vermont also have statewide orders essentially banning religious gatherings.
What makes these rules distinct from the social distancing bullsh** is that these orders are facially un-Constitutional. The First Amendment doesn’t have a Wuhan virus exception. If clergy want to go along with Caesar and put placating temporal powers over their mission, that is their call. The state may not direct this to happen. In particular, the Indiana order is grotesque because it actually modifies religious practice (pro tip: if your Communion comes in snack-packs you just might be doing this wrong) in a way that has no scientific basis. If two or more of you are gathered in a Port-a-john, you may be reading Scripture incorrectly.
None of this is benign. If religious services can be shut down for the fanciful fear of some viral outbreak and religious practices modified by executive fiat, then religious freedom ceases to exist. Had this regime been in effect during the Jim Crow era, black churches would have been ordered shut for fear of violence…a fear much more founded in reality than our current panic over Wuhan virus.
While the state has the right to undertake some actions to forestall an actual epidemic, those measures, when they simply brush aside the US Constitution, must be accompanied by some measure of sanity. If a church makes the decision to hold services, the state may not like it but it simply may not interfere. If we allow this idiocy to take root, we have no one but ourselves to blame for what will undoubtedly come next.