What comes to mind when you think of the COVID-19 pandemic? Certainly the infection rate, and of course, the number of deaths in our country, if not around the world. The thought, at least for me, that comes to mind is how contagious this virus is. Some reports say it’s three times as contagious as influenza, and we’re aware of how many people, in the US alone, the flu kills every season. So most states have some sort of lockdown in place, where people are ordered to stay home, except to receive essential services, or those that provide those same services. Indications seem to be that this is working, at least a little for now and anything we as individuals can do to mitigate the spread of this virus, however disagreeable in the short term.
So why is it that, in several states, have those governors declared an exemption of religious services? How is those in any way, essential? As I wrote in a earlier post, there’s no need in the 21st century to have a large gathering of worshippers: services may be live streamed. Of course, not every person may have Internet access in their home. Does that mean the community, as a whole, is placed at risk because of the lack of a computer at home?
One of those states with the exemption, is mine, Arizona. Of course the governor, Ducey, allowed the exemption as long as congregants practiced social distancing. How exactly would that be policed? Think about this: Six feet of separation between people: that would be to both sides, as well as front and back. Even with a large auditorium that is able to hold hundreds of people, that would cut down attendance by at least three-fourths. Why even hold in person services then? And with the danger of contagion higher than that of influenza, the act of breathing around one another may pose a threat, forget abut singing hymns. Of course, the pastor or preacher may tell people who may be symptomatic to stay home, but what about the many that may be asymptomatic?
Some people have said that the president should step in and prevent all large gatherings, including in person religious services. But does the Executive have that power, even in what has already been declared a National Emergency? There’s arguments on both sides but suffice to say at this point there’s nothing short of declaring martial law where this seems to be able to be done. This is something that has never been tested Constitutionally. The president is being judicious in not taking that next step, hoping that continuing to emphasize the need for social distancing that people would use common sense, and take the advice of the task force.
Why any religious leader would risk the spreading of this disease is really unknown. Many have cancelled in person services and others are performing live streams for their congregations as they are able. In other words, there are those using common sense and not wanting to be responsible for spreading the infection with the possibility of deaths not only with their attendees, but to the general public as well.
All the rest of us can do right now is watch to see what happens. This week is a huge week for Christianity: From Palm Sunday to Easter. I hope some of these religious institutions have the sense to not hold large indoor – or outdoor celebrations until COVID-19 is under control and in decline. Risking other peoples lives for your right to worship is not something the Framers ever considered.