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Supreme Court of the United States

Church Services, COVID-19, and the Constitution: Your Questions Answered

By Ryan Tucker posted on:
March 24, 2020

The past few weeks have brought drastic changes to daily life for us all.

Many of us find ourselves homebound as we follow the advice of authorities who recommend social distancing and other means necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Every day brings new information and new challenges.

This is a difficult time. And many difficult decisions are being made.

We are praying for the individuals making those decisions—for our leaders in government, for medical professionals, for pastors, and for all who are acting in the best interest of those they serve.

And we are thankful for a God who hears those prayers and who is in control even when things seem uncontrollable.

I’ve heard from many of you about how you’ve been impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Many churches have shared concerns about how the government restrictions put in place to fight the spread of the virus are impacting our religious freedom and what that means for them and their congregations.

I took a few minutes to address this in a video.

Here are answers to some of the common questions we’ve heard.

Can the government tell churches to limit their size when meeting or tell them not to meet at all?

Government officials must respect and protect Americans’ freedom to live and worship according to their faith. The freedom to exercise our faith is not a second-class right—and religious gatherings should not be treated worse than secular gatherings.

It’s clear that shutting down church services burdens religious freedom and assembly. But the analysis doesn’t stop there. The government must show a compelling interest for doing so. Right now, during this extraordinary time, it’s conceivable the current situation involving this global pandemic may qualify as a compelling government interest.

The question then is whether the compelling interest is being pursued with what’s called the “least restrictive means.” And that question looks at whether the government restriction is more burdensome than it needs to be to accomplish its objective.

In this case, temporary, evenly applied restrictions may satisfy that standard. But if these restrictions are unnecessarily prolonged or strengthened or if religion is targeted by some government body, then that analysis may change.

What should my church do if it feels unfairly targeted by these government restrictions?

ADF is concerned about these restrictions and is closely monitoring the situation. However, it is impossible for us to monitor every restriction throughout the nation. And that’s where you come in.

If you have any questions about your particular situation, please contact us.

How are churches across the country handling these restrictions?

Even in the midst of a global pandemic, there is encouraging news! We’ve heard of numerous local churches rising to the occasion.

Many have creatively moved their services online. This has been a great opportunity to get the Gospel out virtually to a much broader audience. In fact, some pastors have reported more individuals watching their services online than at their average Sunday service.

And if you think about it, that shouldn’t be surprising.

In times of crisis, people realize their need for a Savior. They need basic truth, and we are grateful for churches spreading this truth to a world in desperate need.

Churches have also shown the love of Jesus in other tangible ways. Church diaper drives are making sure parents have what they need. Pastors are delivering food to the elderly in their congregations. Church facilities have transformed into temporary daycares for first responders and healthcare workers.

What we are seeing is unprecedented need. But there is no shortage to how the Church is serving right now.

The world is different today than it was yesterday. But God is the same. When the dust settles from this crisis, we’ll have a tomorrow where God already is.

Let’s join together in giving thanks for that—even if we must do so virtually.

Ryan Tucker

Ryan Tucker

Senior Counsel, Director of the Center for Christian Ministries

Ryan Tucker serves as senior counsel and director of the Center for Christian Ministries with Alliance Defending Freedom.

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