Who will remind the politicians that religious services are essential?

April 17, 2020
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Safe to say, the majority of mayors and governors in the US are not religious. They do not consider communal prayer, study, weddings, funerals, and other events, to be essential services.

They do not appreciate the importance of coming together in holy places such as houses of worship.   

They do not have a compelling need to be with family, friends, and neighbors on holy days such as the Sabbath and holidays.

They do not understand that spiritual health promotes mental and emotional health, which promote physical health.

And some of them are actually anti-religion - in particular, anti-Judaism and anti-Christianity.

Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that most will not be eager to re-open synagogues and churches, as the COVID-19 Lockdown is loosened.

It is up to us - religious Christians and Jews - to encourage them to make that re-opening a priority. In particular, it is up to our communal religious leaders.

Of all the various institutions in the country, religious congregations should be counted on the most to voluntarily implement social safeguards to prevent the spread of disease. We consider life to be sacred. We take care of the elderly, and the sick. We rise to the occasion when people are in need. We uphold the rule of law. 

We could and should take the lead in demonstrating how the citizenry can adopt health measures without the threat of fines, jail, or closures. At the same time, we should take the lead in speaking out against unconstitutional power abuses that infringe on religious liberty.

These include violations for public safety by even the most well-intentioned government officials, who unfortunately consider following the Bill of Rights to be “above their pay grade.” See below regarding Governor Murphy of New Jersey.

Let’s even suppose that you are a rabbi, priest, or minister that fully supports draconian measures to “reduce hospitalizations and ultimately save lives,” as Gov. Murphy puts it. You still have a responsibility to your congregation to advocate on behalf of our rights.

You can comply with restrictions, and protest government overreach at the same time. That’s what we need you to do: comply under protest. If you don’t, then your - and our - compliance will be taken for granted the next time a mayor or governor wants to treat religious people as second-class citizens.

The last thing we need is for our religious leaders to be yes-men to government officials who frankly don’t consider religion to be important.

Care to take a look at history and see how that works out?

This is a message that must be sent today by all our religious leaders - clergy, congregation officers, and communal associations, including councils of rabbis, of priests, and of ministers. They must make the case that religious services are essential, and are our right to perform; but we can and will do so to preserve health. Something like this:

“Without protest, we let you deprive us of our religious liberty, for good reason. But now we say enough. Religious services are vital to the health and well-being of millions of Americans. Now is the time to drop official sanctions on our congregations, and let us show you we can voluntarily protect our health while still practicing our religion.”

I am sure you are familiar with this verse:

“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Devarim 8.3

It applies to our current situation this way: if they can open the restaurants - albeit in a limited way - they can open the synagogues and churches.

If our communal leaders don’t drive this message home to our government officials, who will?

Regarding Governor Murphy:

"So, you made that decision, and as I noted before, 15 congregants at a synagogue in New Jersey were arrested and charged for being in a synagogue together. Now, the Bill of Rights, as you well know, protects Americans, enshrines their right to practice their religion as they see fit and to congregate together to assemble peacefully. By what authority did you nullify the Bill of Rights in issuing this order? How do you have the power to do that?" Carlson asked.

"That’s above my pay grade, Tucker. I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this," Murphy began to reply.