It may sound strange for many readers here, but I’m about to side with Christians. There’s been a case recently, where a mayor has prevented Christians from holding drive up services. These are services where the congregants remain in their cars while tuning into an FM station to hear the service, or maybe lower their windows a bit. In each case the attendees remain in their own vehicles, at least attempting to perform social distancing. My opinion is that although these gatherings, these drive-in services may still prevent a threat to not only those in attendance but ultimately to the community, I can’t see that a mayor, any mayor, has the authority to prohibit these gatherings. It must come from the Governor of the state.
Read this story. Yes, it’s a Christian publication but the video, at least on Twitter, has gone viral. Imagine a police officer telling you that your rights have been suspended. How would any of us react to that? Notice also in the photos the number of police cars present, for a tiny congregation. I wonder why they didn’t deploy SWAT? Suffice to say the police reacted, poorly. A mayor, in any city, in any state, cannot override the declaration of the Governor of that state and Mississippi is one of those that allowed religious services to continue as long as social distancing rules were enforced. That is almost impossible to do within any church, but to ticket attendees, who are staying within their cars seems to go over the top. Of course, the pastor in the story didn’t receive much support from his peers. Out of 25, only 4 agreed he should have been able to hold the service.
That’s the rub isn’t it? We’re in the midst of a pandemic unlike anything any of us have witnessed in our lifetimes. Is it too much to ask that even churches suspend services until the numbers of those infected, and most especially the death rate, is in steady decline? Yes, I realize that for Christians this is Holy Week, but would your god want you to place the lives of your congregants at risk to attend a Palm Sunday, Good Friday, or Easter service?
I also look at this from our basic civil rights, which were written and added to our Constitution as The Bill of Rights. I’ve always found it interesting that the First Amendment places freedom of religion first. Yes, go take a look. Congress shall make no law…and then there’s the Establishment Clause which means that government may not prefer one religion over another. In the very same sentence is the Expression Clause which denies the government any authority over how people worship. Of course, then there’s the clause on Freedom of speech, assembly, and the press. Most people stop there when they’re asked what their rights under the Constitution are. There are 9 more amendments. Of course the Second, which causes a lot of argument today, but (without doing a search) can anyone tell me what the third Amendment says? Yes the Fourth is about illegal search and seizure, and the Fifth is the right to not incriminate yourself (that’s only part of it, and if that’s all you know about it, you watch too many cop shows on TV). The Sixth is about having a speedy trial and a trial of your peers. Can anyone, again without doing a lookup online state what the Seventh through the Ninth amendments state?
All of that to say is that we define our rights based mostly on a single amendment to the Constitution. It’s first because it says a lot in few words, and no other country in the world has those rights so explicitly. stated. Even those of us that are atheists should want to uphold the First amendment because without it, we could be (legally) persecuted for not believing. So I think this pastor, in the story above, should have been able to hold his service, even if I think it’s an idiotic idea right now. The government, as long as this pastor is attempting to preserve the health of his congregation and his community, should be able to have a “drive in” service. Here’s more on this.
Although I agree that the health and safety of a community may take precedence, I don’t believe we’re at a juncture where our basic civil rights should be able to be casually overridden, especially by some local official. as log as whatever the gathering is about, those attending do their best to socially distance themselves to prevent the spread of COVID-19, that’s pretty much all we can do. I don’t believe we’re at the point of declaring martial law as most Americans are heeding the guidelines from the Presidents Task force and that will, think mitigate and get us back to normal, sooner than later.