Whoever said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” was certainly correct. Especially in times of crisis. For instance, it took a lawsuit to convince Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker to allow religious people to leave their homes to exercise their freedom of religion.
Under his original executive order, the governor would permit “Essential Businesses and Operations” to have gatherings of 10 or more people, but not religious gatherings. Even stay-in-your-car drive-in services, as Pastor Steve Cassell of the Beloved Church found out when he was issued a cease and desist order, threats of arrest and prosecution.
Cassell and the Thomas More Society responded by filing a lawsuit. As Thomas More senior council Peter Breen said, “Keeping liquor stores open but indefinitely shutting down churches and religious ministries violates our constitution and our most basic liberties. If liquor stores are ‘essential,’ so are churches.” The governor quickly issued a replacement executive order explicitly allowing the free exercise of religion, as well as permitting gatherings that comply with social distancing.
Governor Pritzker is particularly easy to pick on here, but he’s certainly not alone. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly issued an order that exempted “26 types of secular activities from its gathering ban” but specifically prohibited “churches and other religious services or activities” with 10 or more people, even if they obeyed social distancing requirements. That order only lasted until the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit. The governor has since issued a new order that didn’t single out churches.
Still, as ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said, “It’s a shame that it took a federal lawsuit … in order to finally prompt the governor to issue an order that she could easily have issued in the first place: one that doesn’t … unconstitutionally target churches.”
It is more than a shame, actually. It’s revealing. Because from governors’ mansions to city halls across the country, from major metropolises like Bill de Blasio’s New York City to small cities and even smaller townships in the Bible Belt—like Chattanooga, Tennessee and Greenville, Mississippi—state and local officials are demonstrating just how badly they understand America’s First Freedom. It’s bad enough that, as another ADF official admitted, ADF and the Thomas More Society and other religious freedom groups “can’t possibly monitor every situation across the nation.”
Last week on Twitter Southern Seminary professor Andrew Walker wondered aloud on Twitter, why there has been such a “general mismanagement of religious liberty at the gubernatorial and municipal levels”?
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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and David Carlson