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A New Wave of Government Officials Treating Churches Unconstitutionally

Jeremiah Galus
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Right now, across the United States, many government officials are being unreasonable.

Not all of them, of course. But far too many. We understand government officials are trying to make things work, and they are doing their level best to respond under stressful and difficult conditions. And we’re praying for all of our nation’s leaders.

But the actions of some government officials over the past several weeks—treating churches worse than other groups—is simply indefensible. It’s also unconstitutional, and that’s why ADF is standing alongside these churches.


The First Wave

As states began to shut down in response to the coronavirus, some government officials targeted churches with unfair restrictions.

Church members were fined as they sat in their cars during drive-in services, so we filed a lawsuit to protect their rights. We also assisted when church services were not allowed to meet, even though bars, businesses, and other secular organizations could meet in groups larger than 10.

These restrictions were problematic because they were not applied equally to similarly situated secular groups. Because government officials had treated these churches worse than businesses and other organizations, we had to step in.

And with God’s blessing, we achieved victories for every church we represented in that first phase of government overreach.


The Second Wave

But as cities and states start to lift stay-at-home orders, some government officials continue to treat churches as second-class.

This is what’s happening in some states as they reopen:


  • Restaurants, malls, gyms, and other businesses can open to as many patrons as they can fit with social distancing between groups. But churches, no matter the size of their facility, are subject to criminal penalties of up to 30 days in jail and $1,250 in fines if they hold services with more than 25 individuals no matter what precautions they take—even lowering capacity, social distancing, or following any number of CDC recommendations. They’re not allowed to open on the same terms as everybody else. This is happening in Oregon, where ADF filed a lawsuit this week challenging these unconstitutional restrictions.


  • Some states have different capacity percentage limits for businesses and churches. For example, churches are limited to 25-person capacity, but shopping retailers are allowed up to 50 percent. Last week, ADF sent a letter to the Indianapolis mayor, who implemented these unfair restrictions. Thankfully, in response, the Marion County Public Health Department issued a notice allowing churches to meet on the same terms as secular businesses.


  • In some areas, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, museums, indoor malls, nail salons, barbers, and other close-contact businesses are free to open to 50 or more people. But if you are a church and operating under social-distancing guidelines, you still can’t do the same. ADF filed a lawsuit against the Nevada governor last week for treating churches unequally by implementing such restrictions.


Like the first wave, this new wave of discrimination against churches is unconstitutional. We are monitoring these situations, and we are taking legal action to protect the rights of churches.

The coronavirus, and our response to it, has complexities that are yet unknown. But that doesn’t mean government officials should get a free pass when they treat churches worse than secular businesses and organizations. Religious discrimination is always unconstitutional, pandemic or not.

If you are a church leader who is experiencing this kind of unreasonable treatment, please do not hesitate to contact us. The ADF Church Alliance team would be happy to advise you relating to your situation.


Jeremiah Galus
Jeremiah Galus
Senior Counsel
Jeremiah Galus serves as senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a key member of the Center for Christian Ministries.