Coronavirus, Constitution, & Governor Hutchinson
As officials across the country try to slow the spread of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) more and more restrictions and guidelines are being announced on businesses and places people gather.
We applaud Governor Asa Hutchinson for his concern over how restrictions may affect constitutional rights, in particular, the separation of church and state. On Thursday, March 20th, the governor announced additional restrictions and guidelines. In doing so, he acknowledged the separation between church and state and made clear the state was not trying to ban people from attending religious services. At the same time, he expressed his hope religious institutions would find it wise to abide by the restrictions in order to protect their congregations and the public at large.
These are common-sense measures that many are already taking in light of the national emergency and state emergency that we see. But, we also wanted to make it very clear in terms of our churches, and our synagogues, our mosques, we hope that they will continue to make good decisions, and while they make their own judgments and determinations with our separation of church and state we do think that it would be wise that they also abide by these restrictions in terms of limiting the number of people and probably canceling services in most instances and looking for other ways to be able to fellowship, look for creative ways to be able to communicate their message, and so they need to be creative, they need to minister to their congregations with the same innovation that we’re asking businesses to do.[i]
Contrast Governor Hutchinson’s statement with the mess that occurred in Louisiana. Louisiana banned all public gathering of a certain size. A Louisiana pastor and his church defied the order, holding a church service with over three hundred people in attendance. The police showed up after the service and warned the pastor the National Guard would break up any future gathering of over fifty people. The pastor remained defiant saying, “We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”[ii]
Governor Hutchinson avoided such a controversy while urging religious institutions to make wise decisions and voluntarily abide by the restrictions. We think all or nearly all will.
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There are two competing voices. Some want the government to do whatever it takes to keep them from getting the virus, even if it means trampling on the constitution. Others, while applauding many of the steps taken to fight the virus, are concerned about constitutional rights, worrying, if government can quash constitutional rights over a virus, what does the future hold.
It is not just religious freedom; we are concerned about how other restrictions impact our other freedoms.
How we respond to the Coronavirus obviously effects our health and economy but also our liberties.