Faith

Right to Religious Freedom at Risk?

The debate over closing churches is causing some to lose faith ... in government.

Patrick Hampton · Apr. 6, 2020

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

There are many people to thank for their critical response to the pandemic crisis. My gratitude goes out to the governors of Texas, Florida, and Tennessee for standing up for the American people in the wake of the viral threat when other states would rather lie down.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the ban of religious services is prohibited within the state during the quarantine. Florida Gov. Ron Desantis also allows for church gatherings in his state, overruling city and county mandates. Our governor in Tennessee has also refused to close churches. These governors expect church leaders in their states to exercise mandates for social distancing and hygiene.

Meanwhile in Tampa, Florida, megachurch pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested for violating a health mandate that forbade large gatherings. Howard-Browne — now free on bail — was charged with unlawful assembly. His arrest occurred despite his investing $100,000 on precautionary measures, including an air-purification system and hand sanitizer for his congregation of 500, while practicing social distancing with church members. Even following the CDC’s recommendations did not protect the pastor from arrest.

I support the protection of our church gatherings not because churches are essential business (in fact, I believe that churches are the most essential business) but because our First Amendment constitutional right to religious assembly is at peril. This gradual dialing back on our liberties, even a little, is a threat to the rights guaranteed to us all.

To illustrate this, I use the fable of the boiling frog. You know, the critter who gets boiled alive? The idea is that if a frog somehow falls into a pot of boiling water, it will escape. But if the frog sits in a pot of warm water, it will stay. It will continue to stay even as the water temperature is slowly brought to a boil. The frog ultimately dies because it does not sense its impending doom approaching.

To help orient my readers, we are here. We are sitting in the pot. And the water just got warmer.

History should remind us how we the people fought fiercely for the rights we’ve enjoyed up until now. Isn’t it ironic that the threat of illness and death could undo the precious values our people actually died to protect?

God orders us to heed our governing authority — that being the Constitution, and that meaning the right to religious assembly. Quarantine Karen most certainly has the right to stay at home where she and her family are safe. But her fear should not infringe on the practice of my faith — the one thing we believers in Christ have a right to … at least while it’s still allowed.

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