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“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The beginning of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

And, while I cut it off, no, it does not go on to say somewhere…unless there is a “public health emergency.”

Governors and mayors across the country have taken away rights of individuals during the last month. Some understandably so, some not so much.

There will be a time and a place for discussion on each of these rights that have been taken away from citizens, but today is Easter. So I’m going to stick with the idea that government officials have prohibited the right of Americans to exercise their religion.

I know, I know. But churches can live stream.

First of all, can they? I know The Church At Planned Parenthood has had issues in the past with Facebook attempting to censor their services. I know that other pastors have had issues with Facebook not allowing Bible-based sermons to be shown due to “hate speech.”

Second, just like concerns about not every student having internet access home, the same concern should be shared for people of faith who, for whatever reason, may not have internet access.

Third, it isn’t the same as gathering in one place with fellow believers to worship God. That is not to say it is insufficient, but it also is not for me (or any governor or mayor) to say what is or isn’t sufficient for someone else when it comes to someone else’s First Amendment right to make sure government does not make a law that prohibits the free exercise of religion.

Period.

That point needs to be hammered home to every elected official in every city, county and state. Perhaps online worship services fulfill their right. Great. But they cannot assume since it fulfills their right that it fulfills everyone’s right.

I should have started with this, but the most concerning part of government officials prohibiting religious services is the precedent it is setting. This time it’s a “public health crisis.” What will it be next time?

And trust me, if it goes unchallenged and unpunished this time, there will be a next time.

One of the most troubling things through this COVID-19 crisis has been the lack of confidence adults seem to have in themselves. Rather than rest assured that grown men and women can make the decisions best for themselves, many are clamoring for government to do it for them by way of order or proclamation.

For some things, fine, whatever.

But for religious services and gatherings, no. It isn’t fine. And it isn’t whatever.

A government telling people of faith they cannot meet together for worship service cannot happen. Not in America.

If government wants to encourage churches to not gather due to the public health crisis, fine. You can recommend, encourage, suggest to your heart’s delight.

But for government to order churches not to gather, removing an individual’s right to his or her free exercise of religion, that’s just too far.

Now, do I think Gov. Kim Reynolds is doing this out of spite for the faith community? Of course not. But is it entirely out of the realm of possibility that some future mayor, governor or president down the road wouldn’t?

Really? Do you think that’s impossible?

I know that many things have changed since our founding documents were written. I know there’s a long list of advancements that have taken place since our Constitution was written.

But I’m fairly certain those men were aware of viruses and serious illness.

As we reported yesterday, mayors were allowing drive-thru liquor stores to remain open while closing drive-inn church services.

You know some make a similar argument about the Second Amendment. The part where it says “shall not be infringed.” Imagine the right to keep and bear arms being stripped away by government.

That is exactly what is happening to the right to the free exercise of religion right now.

And perhaps you feel it is justified for your right to the free exercise of religion to be taken away during a public health crisis. But you do not get to take away someone else’s right to the free exercise of religion — or at least you’re not supposed to.

Too many churches have given it up far too easily without even a whimper.

I apologize. There is no reason for this column to be 800 words. None at all.

I feel as though I keep making the same argument I started with.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

That is pretty cut and dry. It essentially says what I’ve said in 800 words in 16. And those 16 words say it all.

 

Jacob Hall

Author: Jacob Hall