About the government takeover of religious congregations

March 30, 2020
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So now a number of states have banned group prayer services. Criminal penalties will be assessed on people who break these laws.

It’s instructive to think how we got to this point, and what the future might hold for government interference with religious liberty.

Ironically, religious groups have always been leaders in preserving public health. For example, how many hospitals in this country were funded by religious men and women? You want to bet it was most of them?

But these vital contributions to society were made on a voluntary basis. Politicians did not have to compel civic-minded Jews and Christians to promote the general welfare.

In the early stage of the Corona pandemic, some religious communities took their own measures to prevent the spread of the disease. It can be debated whether or not the measures were too extreme, but the point is, they were done willingly and pro-actively.

Many people hoped the masses would follow suit and voluntarily take precautions, as is typically done when a pandemic strikes. But then panic hit, and government authorities dictated safeguards.

It could and should also be debated whether shutting down so much of the country was required, but the fact remains, it is.

In a number of states, this includes all facets of communal religious living, from group worship, to weddings and funerals beyond family attendance.

What’s interesting to me is that when businesses were shut down, many were alarmed by this huge interference by the government in the private sector. The attitude seemed to be “Yes, public health is vital; and yes, we will do our share; but no, this is not what America is all about, and it simply cannot continue.”

And no, a precedent cannot be set for the government to take over major portions of the economy every time there is a “crisis.”

That, of course, is the long-term fear among those of us who do a cost-benefit analysis any time the government seizes control of business activity.

And it should be the fear among those of us who do a cost-benefit analysis any time the government seizes control of religious activity.

The governors of the states that are now regulating group worship are mostly Democrat; at least one is a Republican. But this is not a partisan concern (although big-government liberals are more likely to interfere in our lives.)

It is really a concern about the values of the politicians that are flexing their coercive muscle. For example, Ralph Northam of Virginia is an advocate of infanticide (aka ninth-month “abortion.”) Do you really think he is the kind of guy who holds anything sacred? Who understands the purpose of religious living? Who appreciates the supreme importance of the community to the spiritual livelihood of the individual?

I do not. Therefore, I think it is extremely naive - and dangerous - to trust this man to protect the interests of religious congregations when the next “emergency” hits. 

Actually, when you realize that it is religious people who oppose basically all that people like him stand for, it is reasonable to think he could become a long-term threat to us the next time he sees an opportunity to satisfy his lust for power.  

He could very well be a leftist fox in a traditional henhouse.   

For this reason I think it is imperative for religious Jews and Christians to adopt the same attitude about the government takeover of our houses of worship, as we do about the takeover of our businesses:

 “Yes, public health is vital; and yes, we will do our share; but no, this is not what America is all about, and it simply cannot continue.”

And no, a precedent cannot be set for the government to take over religious congregations every time there is a “crisis.”

There are people like Northam on both sides of the aisle. Every one of them should know that we take our religious liberty no less seriously than our jobs and paychecks.

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Regarding Virginia:

“Virginians are strongly encouraged to seek alternative means of attending religious services, such as virtually or via ‘drive-through’ worship. Places of worship that do conduct in-person services must limit gatherings to 10 people, to comply with the statewide 10-person ban,” it reads. Those who violate Northam’s order will be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, which could land them in jail for a year and/or a cause them to incur a hefty $2,500 fine, according to Virginia’s penal code."