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COVID-19 and the First Amendment

First Amendment: “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.”

While I do not criticize churches from closing physical meetings because of concerns about COVID-19, I am deeply concerned about churches closing their meetings in response to a Government mandate. Some Believers are passionate about their faith and God’s ability to protect them. Other ones may be skittish about contracting COVID-19. The skittish one and everyone with symptoms can remain at home. But when it comes to faith, the Government does not have to right to determine what measure of faith we have or how we should demonstrate that faith by mandating we cannot assemble.

Some lawyers opine, such as Richard Hammer of the Assemblies of God, that the churches must ignore their trust in God’s protection and close or face litigation and possibly forced closings by law enforcement. Other ones declare that it is a violation of the First Amendment. I agree with the latter group.

To even mandate that business should close there must be a provable compelling reason. There is a compelling reason to believe that the COVID-19 crisis is media-hyped and fear-driven. On paper, the stats and other essential information concerning COVID-19, do not add up to a crisis. Compared to a normal flu season, COPID-19 is not likely to affect a large number of people as the flu virus. In the majority of affected individuals, it has not proven any more deadly than the flu.

Furthermore, several esteemed medical professionals have stated that the COVID-19 virus is way overblown and the measures taken by the Government are extreme. Not only is our economy being shut down, which will have devastating consequences, but now a precedent is being set that the Government can override the First Amendment to compel churches to suspend meetings. Should the Government be given the precedence to exercise such a power over the First Amendment based on such a flimsy premise?

Consider that in Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered bars, nightclubs, restaurants, entertainment venues and gyms to close as a measure to flatten the curve of COVID-19. Garcetti also called on houses of worship to close, but he wisely did not mandate their compliance.

He said, “We have an incredible Constitution and a First Amendment, so while we can’t mandate that churches, mosques or synagogues close, please, we are asking you to close them.” – L. A. Times

Okay, churches could comply with that request without any danger to their First Amendment rights. However, one church recognized the danger of submitting to a mandate and chose to exercise their constitutional freedom to assemble.

In Louisiana, one pastor said that he believes COVID-19 is “politically motivated.” Therefore, he rejected the Governor’s mandate that services must be suspended. The church held a meeting on March 17 with hundreds of people attending. Although the police arrived and threatened that the National Guard would close them down, they held another meeting.

Woody Jenkins, a former Louisiana state legislator, supports the church’s right to assemble. Jenkins stated, “Our attitude is the First Amendment rights rise and fall together: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press.”

Clay Higgins, a U.S. Congressman from Louisiana, sent a letter to the Governor declaring that his mandate on church gatherings is unconstitutional.

“I agree that all our constituents and religious leaders should follow the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC),” Higgins wrote. “However, the decision to gather should be the choice of the individual or institution and not a mandate by any government entity. The state has no authority to enforce this proclamation nor any ban on worship.” – Lester Duhe, KLAB online, Posted: Tue 11:53 PM, Mar 17, 2020

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday issued an executive order prohibiting all gatherings of more than 250 people, including religious meetings. Rep. Beau LaFave responded that the order is a violation of the First Amendment right to assemble and free exercise of religion LaFave said that the violation that amounted to throwing constitutional rights “out the window.”

“I will always be the first person to agree with Gov. Whitmer that the state should take pro-active, sound measures to prevent the spread of any illness,” he said. “However, we must take action that is not in violation of the Constitution.” – Beth LeBlanc, The Detroit News Published 12:03 p.m. ET March 13, 2020

Attorney Otten Johnson opined that based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators’ Association, “restrictions on assembly are analyzed identically to restrictions on speech.”

In other words, if the government can mandate the churches must close, it could possibly mandate a gag order on speech. If a Governor or President insists is a compelling reason to mandate all preaching and teaching should be suspended, would Richard Hammer concur?

Johnson implies that there may not be enough precedent in the courts for the Government to enforce a mandate prohibiting churches to assemble.

“Most religious groups gather at least some number of people together, and restrictions on large gatherings might well impact these organizations’ rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. In the case of a pandemic, governments may ultimately rely on compelling governmental interests—protection of life and health—to support their regulations. But beware, as there is little case law outlining what might constitute a compelling interest.” – Otten Johnson Robinson Neff + Ragonetti PC; COVID-19 and the First Amendment: Thoughts for State and Local Regulators

While the Government may claim precedence because of a health crisis, it is my strong opinion (and I am not a lawyer) that in this case preserving the First Amendment is of greater concern. What does it matter if we live through COVID-19, but at the expense of churches no longer being protected from Government intrusion?

“Oh, but we wouldn’t take advantage and abuse the First Amendment,” they may say.

Really? Why do we not trust you? It is wise to trust a Government that in one year has a President that is favorable to Christianity, but the next year may have a President that has demonstrably anti-Christian? Would we want such a President to have the authority to ignore the First Amendment? I can imagine someone, such as Bernie Sanders, becoming President and using this precedence to prohibit church meetings based on a perceived threat to abortions rights, homosexual rights, or to his implementation of Socialism. Are churches ready to put their historical barrier against Government interference in their right to assemble in such jeopardy?

What if one day we were told that we will not be allowed to buy or sell anything until we pledge allegiance to the State, concede that it has power over Christianity and all religion, and allow a mark to be tattooed on our hands and foreheads, publicly expressing our compliance? When are people going to wake up to the fact that there are some things worth standing for even if it means denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, following Christ, and refusing to live in fear of a virus?

7 Comments

  1. “When are people going to wake up to the fact that there are some things worth standing for even if it means denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, following Christ, and refusing to live in fear of a virus?”

    Bull’s-eye!!!

    And worth suffering persecution and martyrdom for, such as Jesus Himself?

    But most will betray Him to save themselves and their comforts of life. They walk by the flesh and not by the Spirit.

  2. I agree whole heartedly! Amen brother! Your the only one so far who has mentioned this that I know of. I have decided at the beginning to continue working. We are landscapers, and we will see if they start forbidding us to mow lawns in Oregon. Where I live there is not a single case of this enemy virus but yet everyone is in fear of it. We were suppose to have family this weekend with several campers camping by the river and they all cancelled for fear of the government. Though they are not Christians, I see that what is happening is really influencing people to be afraid of the government instead of the ‘enemy’ virus. They are not afraid of the virus, but of the government though some are and have put notes on their doors saying don’t disturb ‘self quarantine’, and as I said before there is No virus in our area. The media is shaking their fists as us, trying to cause shame to those who are still working and treating us as children. All the churches are closed but it does not prevent us to go out and give tracks to people, which is what we are doing. Keep looking up, Jesus will call us home when it is the perfect time. Blessings
    Blessings!!!

    • nannette, we are going to be seeing a lot of “shaming” going on not only from the “lost” but also from those who profess Christ Jesus. I too have already experienced it. Distress challenges our faith! Romans 5:1-5 is a great reminder. “THEREFORE, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The way many are behaving (panic, fear) concerning this so-called “virus,” I can see how easily the masses are going to get in line and take the “mark.” How we respond to this event can strengthen our faith, or not. In His time!!!!!

  3. I cannot find many places in this town Ft. Wayne where people are assembling, except the grocery stores and wally world ; two of the most likely places where to catch this flu. I say that wally world and places like whole foods will likely be the first places to strip their shelves and become ‘ detention ‘ centers for those who will not come and accept a ‘ vaccination ‘ that is mandated !! Maybe apostate and false churches , also !! We need to be close to God and listening to the Holy Spirit . We are not to FEAR, or be STUPID !. We are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

  4. From… https://hopeishereblog.wordpress.com/2020/04/04/the-leaf/

    I was thinking about the founding fathers of America. Did they quake, like shaking leaves, with fear, so much so, that they would have ultimately said… I will not risk losing my life, my family, my home, and my business to fight for freedom from the tyranny from Britain? Just forget about the freedom to worship God… I’m not leaving the safety and security of England. Yes, they didn’t run out into the streets with guns blazing with no military strategy. Because they risked much, and many experienced hardship and loss, I’m able to write this and you’re able to read it.

    I also thought about my father-in-law (who I never met) that my wife said was involved in helping the Jews in the concentration camps when WWII ended. His wife told my wife and her siblings, he wouldn’t talk about the horrors he witnessed with his children. If these brave men would have “shaken like a leaf in the wind” with fear of danger, threat to their own lives, and the hardship they faced without knowing if victory was assured, I may not be writing this and you may not be reading it. God did use these men to preserve many of His people, the Jews. Again, they submitted to military strategy and planning—they exercised wisdom. But, they moved with courage.

    With the current… there’s no immunity, it’s highly contagious… I don’t doubt this. It’s a real threat. So was Hitler. Those engaged, had no absolute assurance about stopping this evil mad man. They didn’t hunker down to stay safe in their homes. The able-bodied left safety and security to fight for their freedom, and that of others. Did people lose their lives? Yes… 75 to 85 million lives were lost.

    As for a quarantine…

    There was provision in God’s Law for quarantine with a disease for Israel. However, I haven’t seen where, in most cases, all of Israel was to be locked down. The able-bodied, non-diseased, were to work and produce for their society. How about the High Priest and Levites serving in the Temple? Did they stop if someone contracted leprosy? Did everyone quit keeping the Sabbath?

  5. While in quarantine…and afterwards… consider including a Bible Tract in your monthly mailed-in bills.😊. Also, Consider giving a small Tip and a Bible Tract to your grocery store clerk or shopping cart employee.😊

  6. By now, I think we all know what this is. Even the most gullible, naive, happy-go-lucky, rose colored glasses type of Christian must know it by now.

    I also think that this is the ‘storm’ that was in the dream Cedric had. It started in the ‘east.’ It came to our west coast, then the east coast, then all over. People in the stores were warning about it in all out mayhem. Rioting broke out in the cities. In fact, I’m going to go read that post again…

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