The current COVID pandemic has affected almost every area of life in America, including normal church activities. Most churches cancelled every meeting initially, with some opening up partially and others completely after awhile, while still others remained closed. In many cases, these decisions were made by the churches themselves, but for others, decisions were forced upon them by governmental edict. Details vary from state to state and the situation highlights the issue of religious freedom with special focus upon the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Many Christians have given more thought to religious freedom this year than perhaps ever before. What has this pandemic taught us about religious freedom in America?
Contrary to the thinking of some, churches are not entirely exempt from government authority. Building codes, zoning ordinances, and similar requirements affect houses of worship as much as they do businesses and private citizens. Just because a building is used for religious purposes does not exempt it from regulation. Government has a legitimate role in the welfare of all citizens, and churches must comply with the same safety regulations that apply to everyone else. Government has a legitimate role in protecting citizens from various dangers, including diseases.
"[Scalia] held that the Constitution does not allow religious adherents to violate a 'neutral law of general applicability,' by which he meant a law that applies to everyone and does not favor or disfavor people based on their religion or lack thereof." - The Conversation
"In Maxon v. Fuller Theological Seminary, a federal court ruled in favor of religious liberty and in so doing enabled the school’s unique Christ-centered mission. The case involved the ability of religious institutions to set admissions standards according to their sincere beliefs." - C.Today
"Does the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) categorically bar successful plaintiffs from receiving a monetary award? In one of the first cases heard in the new U.S. Supreme Court term, justices heard oral arguments on that question." - BJC
"A federal judge quoted Hebrews 10:25 as he ruled against Mayor Muriel Bowser’s restriction on outdoor church services of more than 100 people, allowing Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., to resume in-person outdoor services." - C.Post