(TargetLiberty.org) – COVID-19 is changing the way people live their lives. Social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders are forcing people to stop doing many activities they love. They can no longer attend festivals, parties, sports events, and some can’t even go to church.
The strict new rules and the arrest of a pastor in Florida are leaving many to wonder if these restrictions are even legal. Are stay-at-home orders violating Americans’ right to worship?
Stay at Home!
At least 40 governors are trying to control the spread of COVID-19 by ordering their residents to stay home. Each state has a different set of guidelines, but basically they all require people to stay home unless they are leaving to do something essential. Officials in the states have had to answer whether or not church services are necessary.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) said they’re not. Police in the state are breaking up gatherings that violate the order, including religious events.
Of the states that have stay-at-home orders, 12 are exempting religious services. Florida is one of those states, but unfortunately, its exemption didn’t keep one pastor out of jail.
Florida Pastor Jailed
On March 30, Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne found himself in handcuffs for allowing the parishioners of The River at Tampa Bay Church to worship together. The pastor’s arrest came about a week after Hillsborough County put a stay-at-home order in place. He was charged with two counts of violating the order.
A couple of days later on April 1, Howard-Brown posted a video statement and said he was shutting his church down to protect it from a “tyrannical government.” He released another statement the next day telling his parishioners that he wasn’t sure when he’d start services again.
The Right to Worship
Obviously, nobody wants to spread the virus to their friends and fellow churchgoers. COVID-19 is deadly and it doesn’t discriminate. But what’s more essential than an activity protected by the Constitution?
If people are allowed to walk into grocery stores, why can’t they worship in their church while practicing social distancing? There are ways to keep people safe while keeping their religious freedoms intact.
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