Review: Some churches defiantly hold services despite coronavirus stay-at-home orders

This article discusses churches that held live Palm Sunday gatherings either in direct defiance of, or skirting, local stay at home orders.

At one Los Angeles-area church, “congregants lined up 6 feet apart on Palm Sunday, waiting to take communion….. Ten people were allowed inside at a time, with someone spraying chairs with disinfectant after each use.” The night before, the pastor, knowing he was going to offer these services and upset that churches were deemed “nonessential” under California stay-at-home orders, resigned his position on the local City Council. More than 1200 people showed up for Palm Sunday services at a Baton Rouge, Louisiana church led by a pastor who already had been charged last week with violating the state’s stay-at-home order.

While Vice President Pence has encouraged religious institutions to follow the CDC’s guidance on limiting all in-person gatherings to no more than 10 people, at least five states — Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and Arizona — have designated religious institutions offering live, in-person services as “essential” under their state’s emergency orders, and another (Michigan) has exempted “a place of religious worship, when used for religious worship” from penalties for violating the state’s social distancing order. Churches in other states intend to challenge their state’s orders as violating first amendment rights to religious freedom and freedom of assembly. However, state authority to impose public health measures to protect against the spread of an active infectious disease outbreak have consistently been held to be constitutional, even if they affect religious practices, so long as the laws are “neutral” and do not single out religious institutions for such restrictions.

These exceptions and challenges in the name of individual and religious liberty create significant vulnerabilities in public health efforts to slow the spread of the virus, putting potentially greater strain on public health and health care resources already under stressed. As one emergency room physician stated in the New York Times, “If we stop doing what we’re doing, it could deteriorate so quickly, and our resources could be overwhelmed so quickly. It’s scary for the people in this community, and scary for us as hospital workers, to be inundated with that.”

|2020-04-07T13:22:16-04:00April 7th, 2020|COVID-19 Literature|Comments Off on Review: Some churches defiantly hold services despite coronavirus stay-at-home orders

About the Author: Ross Silverman

Ross Silverman
Ross D. Silverman, JD, MPH, is Professor of Health Policy and Management at Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health and Professor of Public Health and Law at Indiana University McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis. He is a member of the IU Centers on Health Policy and Bioethics. His research focuses on public health and medical law, policy, and ethics, and law's impact on health outcomes and vulnerable populations. He also serves as Associate Editor on Legal Epidemiology for Public Health Reports, the official journal of the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service. His most recent Covid-19 publications include: "Ensuring Uptake of Vaccines Against SARS-CoV-2" in the New England Journal of Medicine (with MM Mello & SB Omer), and "Covid-19: control measures must be equitable and inclusive" in BMJ (with ZD Berger, NG Evans & AL Phelan)

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