COVID-19 Update: Religious Freedom Still in Jeopardy

Religious freedom is still at risk in this era of COVID-related restrictions on gatherings. With all the news these days focusing on the upcoming election, Supreme Court nominees, street protests and riots, the saga of government overreach against religion under the guise of battling the pandemic may be escaping the public’s notice.

Here are a few places and instances where this recurring problem is happening right now.

California. Although most may be familiar with Pastor John MacArthur’s church and its ongoing problems dealing with indoor meeting restrictions in Los Angeles County, another church, the 3,000 seat North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara, led by Pastor Jack Trieber, has buckled under the weight of fines totaling in excess of $100,000 and has decided to stop holding indoor services.

“Tonight was the right decision to move out here,” Trieber told his members sitting in their cars in the church parking lot for Wednesday evening services. Although the county has stopped racking up fines now that the church is not meeting indoors, it has pointedly told Trieber that it is not forgiving the past fines accrued.

Washington, D.C. The 850-member Capitol Hill Baptist Church is suing Mayor Muriel Bowser and the District for religious discrimination related to their COVID requirements that churches cannot have services with more than 100 in attendance, either indoors or outdoors. The lawsuit charges that the District and its mayor have facilitated and tolerated large street protests without enforcing COVID restrictions, while maintaining the strict rules imposed on churches, even when masks are worn and social distancing is maintained.

The lawsuit highlights the Mayor’s inexplicable preference for protest over worship. “The First Amendment protects both mass protests and religious worship. But Mayor Bowser, by her own admission, has preferred the former over the latter,” the federal complaint reads.

Idaho. Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho was fed up with being forced to wear masks, and showed up at City Hall for a hymn sing in the parking lot as a form of protest. Pastor Douglas Wilson warned his congregation that showing up for the hymn sing could result in their arrest, but about 150 worshippers showed up.

And so did the police, who issued five citations and arrested two of the attendees for “resisting or obstructing an officer.”

Jesse Broussard, one of those issued a citation, said “We are here because we are frankly fed up with wearing masks. With 400 cases and zero hospitalizations, this is not an emergency. The flu is worse than this every single year. Now it is ‘Okay what’s next?’ Forced vaccinations?”

New Mexico. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a “Statement of Interest” in a lawsuit in New Mexico challenging COVID restrictions that are more lenient on public schools than private schools. In New Mexico, as elsewhere, many of the state’s private schools are religious in nature.

“Parents have a fundamental right under the United States Constitution, without interference from the government, to select the school for their children of their choice, whether a public school, a parochial school, or a non-religious private school,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division said. “New Mexico’s response to COVID-19 has infringed that right by adopting one rule for public schools and another for private schools, resulting in private schools remaining closed for in-person instruction, without justification. There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution and New Mexico’s differential standards for private and public schools cannot stand.”

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