The year 2020 brought much unpleasantness and lots of pain to people worldwide, and 2021 seems to be a continuation. Tonight, we await the results of the Georgia runoff election for two U.S. Senate seats and anticipate the show down in Congress tomorrow. I, along with millions of other Americans feel great anxiety over the events taking place this week because we recognize that the direction of our nation rests solidly on the outcomes. However, there are other important topics that should be discussed, and one of those topics is the increasing discrimination of churches.
Progressives who seek to control every aspect of our lives flexed their powers as Democrat governors and mayors. COVID-19 brought plenty of difficulties to Americans without the “shrinking religious freedom” brought by such governors and mayors. These so-called leaders should not have made life more difficult, and they should have given Americans more credit for their capability of taking reasonable precautions in the face of COVID-19.
Progressive leaders abused the powers invested in them by the people. Emilie Kao wrote about a case decided by the Supreme Court in November and quoted the following from Justice Samuel Alito: “the pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty. We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive, and prolonged as in 2020.”
Most Americans willingly cooperated in the efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Most were willing to exercise social distancing and practice safety protocols – at least for a few weeks. However, progressive leaders “trampled on religious freedom by treating religious gatherings more harshly than secular counterparts.”
It is difficult for Americans to see the difference between sitting in close quarters in airplanes and sitting more spread apart in churches. Many Americans saw those same progressive leaders condone the riots and destruction in their cities as citizens exercised their constitutional rights to assemble and protest but refuse the opening of churches. Kao wanted to know why “Malls, liquor stores, and abortion clinics were labeled as essential, while religious services [and small businesses] in similar-sized spaces” were not allowed even if they followed “similar social distancing.”
Then, on the eve of Thanksgiving, the Supreme Court stepped in to address the mess. Faced with restrictions that permitted only 10 or 25 people into cathedrals and synagogues that once [held] thousands, the Archdiocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel sued New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, ultimately ending up at the Supreme Court.
The result was a resounding win for fairness and Americans’ first freedom. Noting a health official who testified that a large store in Brooklyn could “literally have hundreds of people shopping there on any given day,” the Court ruled that New York’s restrictions could not be viewed as “neutral because they single out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”
The court also observed that “The loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.”
Kao wrote that lower courts heeded the decision made by the Supreme Court and began “to restore freedom around the country. The government’s strong interest in public health isn’t compromised by treating religious gatherings in a fair and constitutional manner.”
In addition to physical and financial stress, the pandemic caused much spiritual and emotional stress. At least part of the additional stress was caused by the inability of people to be together in worship services. “As death and economic hardship have increased, the spiritual strength offered by religious communities has become even more essential to the well-being of the nation.” The Justices on the Supreme Court recognized that a Zoom worship service is not the same as being in a chapel or synagogue.
America faces an onslaught of “deaths of despair.” The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reported 1 in 4 millennials contemplated suicide during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the U.S. surgeon general had already warned that “social isolation is a major public health crisis, on par with heart disease or cancer.”
Federal, state, and local officials must understand that religion is essential in the lives of many people. When the Founders placed freedom of religion first in the First Amendment, they broadcast their intention that religion be considered as essential. Officials should respect the Constitution and stop “engaging in religious discrimination” because lives depend on religion.