Few would argue that we are in a strange time due to the coronavirus threat that is engulfing the world, causing much illness, quarantines, hospitalizations and deaths. The virus has disrupted normal life, changed working conditions and resulted in deep divisions of opinion as to which precautions to take to avoid COVID-19.
We thought of this when we read reports that Missouri’s junior U.S. senator, Josh Hawley, sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr. The letter urged him to “immediately” file a suit in federal court to protect religious liberties in states that have placed what Hawley called unconstitutional restrictions on worship.
Sen. Hawley wrote that a number of states are violating the First Amendment by “strictly limiting attendance at religious services while allowing businesses like restaurants and gyms to operate at 50 percent of capacity.” He pointed out that the American people have endured six months of closure and restrictions on their houses of worship. He said “countless harms” have resulted, such as missed holidays and religious celebrations, wedding cancellations and funeral postponements, “to say nothing of the painful absence of regular worship.” He called the continued violations of the First Amendment “outrageous.”
This past June, Sen. Hawley asked the attorney general to initiate a civil rights investigation into First Amendment violations by state officials who imposed unequal regulations on religious services.
At issue is whether states can impose regulations to limit participation in normal events, including religious services, if there is a national health threat. States that have restricted activities cite the need to protect people’s health.
It’s going to be interesting to see court rulings on this issue.
These are strange times indeed!