Forcing Churches To Close Is Un-Constitutional

As I mention in “How To Pass A Class That Says Religion Is Not A Valid Argument”, I had to give a TED-style talk for my ethics class on an ethical, legal, or social controversy that the COVID-19 pandemic caused. To show that I could bring religion into the class without using it as an argument, I chose to speak about how forcing churches to close during these times was un-Constitutional. This is an example of how to get through a class when they tell you that religion cannot be used as an argument. While I could not use religion, I used a historical document that they could not dispute.

I unfortunately only had 5 minutes, and I had to talk pretty fast as it was to fit all of it in. I would have loved to have been able to add more references and more “meat” to my argument, but alas, there was no time. My speech is below, for your enjoyment. Maybe one day I’ll come back and expand upon it. (Oh, and by the way, I actually ended up with an A in the class, and a B+ on this assignment. I’m pretty sure the points were docked because I talked too fast…but really, could I have pared this down?). At the end, I’ll also be addressing one of the comments that a student gave me. 

***

The coronavirus pandemic has caused many changes. Unfortunately, some of them are un-Constitutional. Among others, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, and California are making extreme executive orders, all in the name of social distancing. These changes are targeting places of worship – whether it be an Episcopalian church, a synagogue, or a mosque. By aiming their executive orders at closing down places of worship, American citizens’ rights are being infringed upon. 

Indiana Governor Eric J. Holcomb mandated that physical locations for worship should close, ordered that cars attending drive-in services park in every other spot and that only pre-packaged communion be distributed (1). These regulations came out the day before Easter, a large holiday for religious people (1). 

Andrew Berke, mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee, issued a statement ordering that “drive-in services . . . even in their cars with the windows rolled up, for any length of time will be considered a violation of our shelter-in-place directive”, and he is only one of many declaring similar things (2).

These regulations are outrageous – New York is even threatening to close down churches permanently that do not abide by these strict rules (3). It seems that most states nowadays are forgetting that they must also abide by the Constitution, and not just what they think is best for their state.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” (4)

The Establishment Clause says that Congress shall not make a law that promotes one religion over another or establish that religion in the foundation and laws of the United States. This clause protects American citizens from being forced or inundated by religion. 

The Free Exercise Clause, on the other hand, protects the citizen’s right to worship however and to whoever they want. This clause keeps Congress from mandating that citizens cannot worship the way they choose. According to this clause, if you want to worship your car or your mattress, the government cannot stop you. By restricting church services and forcing places of worship to close, the states are violating the Free Exercise Clause. States are mandating how citizens can worship, and when. In some places, they are ordering congregants to avoid worshipping at their church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship. 

The First Amendment also protects citizens’ rights to peaceably assemble. States that do not allow citizens to enter into their place of worship are breaking this right. Unless a fight breaks out, citizens have a right to peaceably assemble, in whatever quantity. The First Amendment also assumes that people have common sense. If they want to expose themselves to the virus by going to church, then they have that right.

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (4)

In the Fourteenth Amendment, states are not allowed to enforce or make a law that reduces the privileges of American citizens, and they also cannot deprive them of their liberty. With states creating executive orders mandating that citizens cannot worship the way they want, their liberties and privileges are being infringed upon.

Thomas Jefferson penned the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, in which it states that “no man shall…suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” (5) Several other states have similar constitutions that protect such rights, Indiana being one of them. Not only are some of the states violating the U.S. Constitution, but they are also violating their state Constitution. 

In his Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, James Madison argued for why religion should not be engrained in the founding of this country. In doing so, he made several points for the freedom of religion. 

“Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, ‘that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.’ The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator…‘the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience’ is held by the same tenure with all our other rights.” (6) 

James Madison gave evidence that freedom of religion to worship in any way is an unalienable right, which every American citizen is guaranteed to have. The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence cements this into the U.S. foundation. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (7) 

The rights that the Constitution of the United States protects also fall under the ethics of Fundamental Rights (Kantianism). It is unethical to break the protections that every American citizen has been guaranteed, and it is unethical to essentially force someone to worship a certain way (e.g. not at all). 

The opposition to this says that it is alright to bend the rules for the greater good. This would fall under Utilitarianism, where the states assume that shutting down churches will provide people with the most happiness (e.g. not having a chance of catching the coronavirus from the church body). The states want to protect people by lowering the risk of contracting the coronavirus. By reducing the places where people can go, they are keeping contact down. 

Why is this dilemma such a big deal? James Madison explains it concisely. “Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it.” (6)

We cannot, in good conscience, stand idle while our Constitutional liberties are being trampled upon. If it is shown that they will get no resistance, what part of the Constitution will be ignored next? We cannot afford to find out.  

***

The references for my presentation are at the end of this post. Three students had to comment on my speech, and two of them just told me to slow down (I challenge you to read the presentation aloud and see how long it takes you!). One of them, on the other hand, left me this note:

“I do see the point you are trying to make about letting  Americans go to church and worship if they want to, but sometimes the government needs to apply force to protect its citizens under the realm of utilitarianism, saving the most lives possible!

I do believe citizens of the US should be able to worship their respected god/whoever, but they also have the right to live, and worshiping from home or wherever they reside is much safer than letting them go just because they have the right to. I’d rather worship from home and not go to church rather than go to church and meet him sooner than i’m scheduled to!!”

(Grammar is all theirs…this is a direct copy/paste situation.) 

As for the first paragraph of their response, the government does NOT have the right to apply force to American citizens regarding religion. The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment states that the government cannot tell people that they can’t worship the way that they choose, while the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment says the government cannot make you worship in any way. In this case, the government is forcing you to not worship at your church/mosque/synagogue, and they are in direct violation of the First Amendment. The government gives themselves the right to break the Constitution because they are getting little to no pushback on this topic. The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence does not say “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their government with certain Rights that may only be rescinded if exercising those Rights carries any risk, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (8).

Addressing their second paragraph, all I can say is, yes, it is safer to worship at home. While this student says that American citizens have the right to go and do whatever they want, they support the state governments stepping in and taking that right away. We should be free to exercise that right. It is not the government’s job to protect us from ourselves. They cannot make these decisions for us. Their job is clearly outlined in the Constitution, and it says nothing about how they should act during a pandemic. The states have to obey the Constitution, and many have their own individual state Constitutions that protect these rights. The governors and mayors are clearly overstepping these boundaries. If you don’t want to exercise your right to peaceably assemble and be able to attend a church (if that’s how you wish to worship), then, by all means, stay home, because there is a lower risk of you contracting the Wuhan virus. There’s this thing called common sense which seems to be scarce in our world nowadays. And hello, if you’ve walked into Lowe’s lately, you’ll find that there are a whole lot of people in there. How can Lowe’s stay open while churches have to close? That is not fair and is in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment – the whole equal protection part. (And, by the way, what about the mail that you touch? Do you know how many other people have touched that? What about the groceries that you ordered online? Do you really think that you’re the first person to touch those? Amazon packages, gas station pump handles, and the ATM machine buttons all have the same risk, if not higher, of being contaminated with the Wuhan than going to your religious building.) And as for this student’s concern of meeting God before their time just because they went to church, I have this: 

“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:”

– Hebrews 9:27

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;” 

– Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

We are all appointed to die. But the word appointed indicates that we actually have an appointment. God knows exactly when and how we’re going to die. If you’re supposed to die on Tuesday at 11:30 am, then you will, whether you get the Wuhan, get hit by a bus, or if you have a heart attack. It is all in His hands, and you won’t meet Him a second before or a second after.

If you do not know 100% that you will be going to Heaven when you die, now is the time to repent and put your faith and trust in Christ Jesus. If you have any questions or doubts about your salvation, click here to read how you can be saved.

References:

1.     State of Indiana. (2020, April 9). Governor Issues Guidance for Places of Worship. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from https://calendar.in.gov/site/gov/event/governor-issues-guidance-for-places-of-worship/

2.     UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE AT CHATTANOOGA. (2020, April 16). Metropolitan Tabernacle Church and Pastor William Steven Ball vs. City of Chattanooga and Mayor Andrew Berke. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from http://www.adfmedia.org/files/MetroTabChurchComplaint.pdf

3.     Parke, C. (2020, April 1). Pastors object to NYC mayor’s threat to shut down churches. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from https://www.foxnews.com/us/coronavirus-church-pastor-nyc-de-blasio-mayor-threat

4.     Baltzell, G. W. (n.d.). Constitution of the United States – We the People. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from https://constitutionus.com/

5.     Ragosta, J. A. (2018, February 21). Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/virginia-statute-religious-freedom

6.     National Archives. (n.d.). Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, [ca.] … Retrieved April 23, 2020, from https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-08-02-0163

7.     The Declaration of Independence: Full text. (n.d.). Retrieved April 23, 2020, from https://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/

8.     Connally, Steven. (2020, May 14). How Coronavirus Would Transform These Famous American Sayings. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from https://thefederalist.com/2020/05/14/how-coronavirus-would-transform-these-famous-american-sayings/ 

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version.

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