Government restrictions on churches during the COVID-19 pandemic are almost certainly legal provided they are temporary and don’t target congregations, according to a new memo by a leading defender of religious liberty.
First Liberty Institute issued its guidance this week on “Churches and Religious Institutions Facing Coronavirus Restrictions on Gathering,” asserting that churches should continue to serve their local communities but do so while following government guidelines.
“Church and state have an opportunity to work together to reduce the impact of the virus on our communities while encouraging calm and preserving liberty,” the memo says.
Restrictions on churches are likely constitutional as long as they are “temporary” and “evenly applied” to other large gatherings, the memo says.
“Government may not substantially burden the free exercise of religion unless it has a compelling reason for doing so, and even then, it must use the least burdensome approach that achieves that compelling interest,” it says. “Temporary action to reduce the spread of a global pandemic is almost certainly a compelling reason, so long as the government is not treating religious institutions unfairly compared with how it treats other comparable gatherings.
“For instance,” the memo says, “if state officials require churches to ensure that each service has no more than 250 persons, but officials do not require a nearby theater to do likewise, the state may have engaged in religious discrimination.”
Any “extraordinary state action” to “limit the peaceful gathering of American citizens must be temporary,” the memo says.
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Source: Christian Headlines