We are in the midst of global pandemic. And as a result, our federal, state, and local officials have responded by posing restrictions on the number of people that can gather in one place-in some areas the limit is as few as 10 people. Restaurants, coffee houses, and movie theaters have all been shut down. From professional basketball players to little league baseballers, their seasons have been canceled or postponed. And for people of faith, these government-imposed restrictions hit particularly close to home as our places of worship now stand empty.
While many leaders of churches and other religious leaders are worried that these state-mandated restrictions violate religious liberty, they don’t have to be. This isn’t the first time that a pandemic has impacted our lives from the way we live to the way we worship. We have been through this before.
Below, you will find a special message from Kelly Shackelford, information on how to listen to our teleforum First Response, a brief history of the impact of pandemics on religious freedom, and resources for better understanding the impact of Coronavirus on religious liberty including our latest free resource Guidance for Churches and Religious Institutions.
I want to reach out to each one of you as special First Liberty supporters to share what’s on my heart regarding the current Coronavirus Pandemic, as we find ourselves in the middle of a nationwide “self-quarantine” period to help blunt the exponential spread of this highly-contagious virus.
I firmly believe that the best way for us to overcome this crisis is through unity, empathy and sacrifice…not fear and panic.
And while we each practice the protective measures of “social distancing” among others, I know that right now is the time for us to come together as a First Liberty family. Even if we can’t do so physically, we can unite in other ways, including spiritually.
Millions of Americans are adjusting to the new normal brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic. Government officials, trying to stem the spread and effects of the pandemic, have imposed restrictions on large gatherings—including churches and other religious institutions. How should America’s faithful respond? Do these state-mandated restrictions conflict with the First Amendment and religious freedom?
Join First Liberty Institute attorneys every Friday for an in-depth look at the legality of state-mandated restrictions and your right to live out your faith.
As World War I was drawing to an end, a new and even more deadly enemy was already at work – the Spanish Flu of 1918. Like Coronavirus, it was highly contagious. From 1918-1919, the Spanish Flu spread globally infecting nearly a third of the global population and killing an estimated 50 million people.
And as soldiers came home from the war, they brought the virus with them. The virus quickly spread through home towns all across the United States. In Washington, D.C. alone, 50,000 residents were infected prompting district health to take action by restricting public gatherings, including churches and other religious institutions. While local pastors were worried about the limitations place on the First Amendment’s guarantee of the “free exercise of religion” and the “right of the people to peaceably assemble,” they chose to cooperate and work with the government.
Through this spirit of cooperation, the restrictions reduced the overall impact of the already devasting Spanish Flu. And today the legacy of this cooperation stands as an example of the good that can happen when church and state choose to work together in what is seen as the darkest of times.
Today, we are faced with a new enemy, and like the Spanish Flu, Coronavirus is requiring a similar course of action. And while people of faith across the country are understandably nervous when it comes to ceding too much control to the state, we must remember that we have an opportunity to be a source of comfort as we provide hope to those around us. And by cooperating with the restrictions, church and state can once again work together to reduce the impact of a global pandemic that is threatening our nation.
Religious Institutions now have unique opportunities to serve their local communities. And many already are. Examples include:
While our pastors, churches and houses of worship are coming under a lot of pressure, it is our time to stand strong – together. This is one of the reasons why First Liberty fights for religious freedom. It is this freedom that allows our religious institutions, houses of worship and all people of faith to shine and to serve.
FLI’s legal team has analyzed the COVID-19 orders put into place by each state. Learn how your state has responded by downloading our pdf Religious Exemptions and Language in COVID-19 Orders.