Citing First Amendment, outspoken minority of pastors refuse to close churches amid pandemic

"A private test poll of 226 pastors conducted by Barna Research on March 20–23 showed that while a vast majority of pastors, 67%, have opted to close their churches to observe social distancing orders in light of the pandemic, 5% said their churches will remain open as normal." - CPost


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Aaron Blumer's picture


No, the First Amendment does not require that religious gatherings be exempted from restrictions that all other gatherings are under. Did these pastors get any civics education at all?

But this guy needs to go back to school as well...   He can't actually do that.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

G. N. Barkman's picture

When various businesses are exempted from restrictions, but churches are not, it raises First Amendment issues.  Can government restrict freedom to exercise religion, a constitutionally protected right, and exempt others which are not constitutionally protected?  If everyone is restricted equally, churches are not exempt.  If some are not restricted, churches should be included in the exemption.  For example, if everyone is restricted equally under a "no more than 10 gathered people"  rule, churches are included in the restriction.  Government cannot arbitrarily choose which entities are necessary, and which are not with utter disregard to special protections enshrined in the US Constitution.

That's why North Carolina has now, as of Monday, March 30, included churches in the "necessary" category, after not including them originally.  The First Amendment issue was raised with Governor Cooper, and he apparently recognized the problem and corrected it.  Churches are now exempt from the "stay at home" rule that applies to everyone except those in the "necessary" category.  That allows me and all our church staff to freely work from the church facility without legal danger.  We continue to observe the ten persons rule, and are live-streaming instead of holding meetings.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that you've got legal authority (or not), and you've got moral authority.  My take is that if you want to help pastors understand their responsibilities, you at least start with the latter.  To use a phrase we fundagelicals like,  "Opening your church for services, knowing that you are likely to have infected people spreading this deadly disease among your significantly elderly membership, is a good testimony to God's goodness"

I'm glad to say that my church was taking steps to mitigate our possible role (and liability) in these matters well before the Governor issued his orders.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Paul J's picture

Pennsylvania has churches classified as "necessary" which gives us the ability to travel if needed.  We have our staff of 260 sheltered at home and are using all the channels available to us.  The church isn't the building so it is fun to see how our staff and congregation is serving.  We announced early that we would move to online, with a significant presence in our communities we are wanting to be leading in how to help our communities mitigate this problem.  One cool thing is we typically have 17,000 attending our gatherings and our online when we track fully engaged, (attended the full time slot), we think attendance is over 20,000 and we have heard stories of people who haven't wanted anything to do with church are jumping in to watch online.  My daughter has a friend who is agnostic, my daughter noticed a screen shot of our gather on her social media and checked in  She has been attending the past 2 weeks and watched last weeks twice.  It will be amazing to see what God does through this.

Aaron Blumer's picture


There is no constitutional issue because businesses have nothing to do with it. If the ban is on gatherings larger than x or gatherings at all, this is a category that includes churches along with clubs, parties, weddings, funerals, sporting events, and more. To violate the constitution you have to specifically target religious gatherings.

Fortunately, in states that have exempted church gatherings (unwisely) many churches are still choosing not to meet physically in large groups.

I don't remember which ones, but a couple of the states that have labeled churches essential have still ordered social distancing and restricted group size. ... also fortunately.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

G. N. Barkman's picture

In North Carolina, "Essential" has more to do with who is allowed to travel to work, and who is required to stay at home.  Everyone falls under the "No more than 10 people gathered" ban, but some businesses are deemed non-essential, and their employees must stay at home, whereas others are allowed to continue to work, as long as the business does not violate the 10 person rule.  Fortunately, churches are now listed in the "essential" category, so pastors and church employees are allowed to work normally.  In my case, I have my recording studio at the church, and must produce six radio programs a week.  I do not have the equipment to do this at home.  I'm thankful that churches have been declared essential.

G. N. Barkman

dcbii's picture


My business in NC has also been declared essential (and I have one of the letters to show the police, if necessary).  However, our own management has had us almost exclusively working from home for 3 weeks now, and if we do have to go in to work (post the stay at home orders) we have to follow a schedule as to who is allowed onsite when.  That seems a little strict to me, because even before the city and state declared stay at home orders, those few of us who had to go in just stayed away from each other and it worked well.  There were even automated (i.e. no-touch) sanitizer dispensers at every entrance, that we could (and most did) use both coming in and going out.  Of course, "honor system" only works if everyone abides by it, and with a large enough sample of people, that will never be 100% true.

Dave Barnhart

Jay's picture

Since the government has been ordained by God and is there for my good (Rom 13), and because this is a health crisis with lethal ramifications and not a demand to clearly violate Scripture, I am happy to comply with the SAH order(s).  

I also don’t know how I could handle it if I were to go to church and accidentally expose someone or bring it home to my family, particularly if they died of COVID. If I were a pastor and one of my flock died of it as a result of our decision to continue meeting even with CDC guidance, I'd likely be distraught for weeks.  As it turns out, our church hasn't had services and one of our members has contracted it.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Joeb's picture

Very sad and lonely.   Some Pastors and believers still think this is a hyped up hoax by the Demon Democrats to get Trump.  They also think this is no worse then the flu.  A friend of mine and brother in Christ is taking this position.  He says that the CDC Doctors are in on it with the Democrats to get Trump.  It's all one big hoax and the country should have never been shut down.  

Now I'm not saying all Pastors and believers are doing the above but some are.  Other churches that are into the healing gift seem to be staying open because they believe the Lord will protect them.  So  I kid you not there is Pastors out there who are Diehard Trumpeteers or feel God will protect them no matter what because their saved.  

My question is with the above reasons in play the constitution has nothing to do with it with these people other than that they  think Gov has no right to close them period.  The constitutional reason is secondary to their main purpose of gathering.