While most of the country remains under phased social distancing orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, some faith leaders across the US are making a First Amendment case to open up places of worship.
Three pastors explained to Business Insider why they’re fighting to open up.
“I’m not afraid to get COVID-19 when I go to Home Depot and neither should anyone be afraid when they come to church,” one pastor, Diego Mesa, put it.
On Friday, President Donald Trump said he would force governors to open up places of worship, even though he doesn’t have the authority to do so.
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Diego Mesa was driving in Southern California on Thursday evening when he passed shops selling donuts, clothes, and cannabis.
It boggles his mind that these businesses were marked as essential and permitted to reopen on May 8, as Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening plan moved into its second stage. Churches, however, were shelved until the plan’s third phase — lumped in with personal care, exercise, and entertainment facilities.
“Our ideals differ in what we view as essential,” Mesa told Business Insider. “When we are deemed as non-essential, there’s an agenda there.”
But this isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong, he added.
“Opening church is not the issue,” Mesa said. “It’s about whether I have the right to open the church. And, according to the First Amendment, I do.”
As the pastor of the Abundant Living Family Church in Rancho Cucamonga, Mesa is among more than 1,200 religious leaders in California who’ve signed a Declaration of Essentiality for Churches, vowing to host in-person services on May 31, Pentecost Sunday, with or without Newsom’s blessing.
Attorney Robert Tyler is representing the Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi in a lawsuit against Newsom, alleging that the state’s public gathering ban violates religious freedom granted by the First Amendment.
He told Business Insider that next Sunday’s act of civil disobedience was sparked by religious leaders seeking recourse amid the pandemic.
“They began to say that this order by the governor has gone too far and too long,” he said. “The governor is deciding based upon his own subjective decisions as to what he thinks is essential and what is not essential. At some point in time, we have to be allowed to get over the fear and allow these essential ministries to meet again.”
‘Religious institutions must not be singled out for special burdens’
As of Friday, the coronavirus has infected 1.58 million Americans and killed 95,276, according to Johns Hopkins University.
But, Tyler said, the disease and virus-related deaths are one part of this crisis. The other part encompasses unemployment, economic and financial hardships, isolation, depression, addictions, suicide, and other traumas.
“The pastors are seeing a huge need and have decided that they need to take a stand and do what God’s called them to do,” Tyler said. “And they will do so using all appropriate safety precautions recommended by the CDC and local governments, just as Costco and Walmart are required to do.”
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Source:: Business Insider – Science