Pastors are pushing back against government orders to shut down church services during the COVID-19 crisis.
Over 500 pastors in California said they will resume in-person services on May 31, whether the governor approves or not. A group of pastors in Northern Virginia asked the governor to modify his two executive orders to allow them to hold in-person church services. Other churches have filed lawsuits to get the government to back off.
U.S. Attorney General Robert Barr issued memos to prosecutors to be diligent about local and state governments violating individuals’ rights. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued statements of interest in at least two religious-freedom cases involving churches that have filed lawsuits against local and state governments.
The Daily Caller reported that despite these measures of support, pastors want the Trump administration to do more to protect their religious freedom. An excerpt:
Yet some pastors who have been arrested for continuing to hold church services say they want to see more from Barr.
Pastor Tony Spell of the Louisiana Life Tabernacle church sparked a backlash in March when reports emerged that he had bused worshipers to Life Tabernacle from several different parishes in defiance of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edward’s ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. Spell was also criticized at the time for calling the reaction to the virus “politically motivated.”
Since the incident occurred, Spell told the Daily Caller News Foundation that he has been arrested three times for holding religious services.
One arrested pastor said the Trump administration has done the “bare minimum” to protect civil liberties during the COVID-19 crisis. Another defiant pastor, Brian Gibson, said he’ll open his churches in Kentucky and Texas on May 17.
Marc Little, who is a pastor and the chairman of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education’s board of directors, told the Daily Caller that he was “quite surprised” the attorney general and the DOJ filed statements of interest “in direct response to the recent developments and attacks on the gatherings of churches.”
“I would also add that I think it’s consistent with President Trump’s declaration last September before the United Nations that this administration supports the expression of religious liberty.”
President Donald Trump last September announced at a United Nations religious freedom summit that the United States would spend $25 million to protect religious freedom, sites, and relics around the world and would also form a coalition of businesses in the U.S. to protect religious freedom in the workplace.
“It is absolutely critical for government, as Attorney General Barr said, to weigh the interest that the government has in providing public safety and protecting our First Amendment rights in the U.S. and in all cases,” Little said.
What is our First Amendment if it doesn’t protect our “absolute right” to religious freedom?
“We have to find a balance between public safety and a First Amendment right to not only have religious liberty but also freedom of assembly,” Little said. “These things are fundamental in our First Amendment rights. And I think that in many instances our local governments are overreaching their authority.”