Donald Trump wants to open up churches more than some church leaders do. No sooner had he proposed that churches be deemed “essential” services than some church leaders began criticizing him. At CNN, Father Edward Beck quickly penned a column saying, “Mr. President, we don’t need to open churches to practice our faith.”
No one is prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Though we are in the teeth of a pandemic, in which a very dangerous coronavirus can be transmitted by, among other things, close physical proximity, people can and do continue to worship, albeit in temporarily altered circumstances and in novel ways. To use the “freedom of religion” argument to demand carte blanche the opening of religious venues is to proffer a fallacious argument that can potentially lead to physical harm and, in the worst case, death.
Such statements by religious figures are music to the ears of secularists, who have used this crisis as an opportunity to mistreat the religious. The secularists have used the submissiveness of the hierarchy against the faithful, saying to them in effect: If your leaders don’t object to the closing of churches, why should you? This is reminiscent of the Soviet commissars who would use the orthodox clergy as stooges for their dictates, thereby controlling the people in the pews.
Here and there religious leaders have raised objections. But too many have served as stooges for the nanny-state liberals. They have rendered too much to Caesar.
In this crisis, the people in the pews have been better represented by Trump officials than their own leaders. It has fallen to Attorney General Bill Barr and Donald Trump to make the case for reopening churches and protecting the First Amendment.
Barr has reminded people that the First Amendment does not have an emergency exception to it:
[W]hen you’re faced with a potential catastrophe, the government can deploy measures and even put temporary and reasonable restrictions on rights if really necessary to meet the danger. But it still has the obligation to adapt to the circumstances. Whatever powers the government has, whether it be the president or the state governor, still is bounded by constitutional rights of the individual. Our federal constitutional rights don’t go away in an emergency. They constrain what the government can do. And in a circumstance like this, they put on the government the burden to make sure that whatever burdens it’s putting on our constitutional liberties are strictly necessary to deal with the problem. They have to be targeted. They have to use less intrusive means if they are equally effective in dealing with the problem. And that’s the situation we’re in today. We’re moving into a period where we have to do a better job of targeting the measures we’re deploying to deal with this virus.
The Justice Department has tried to protect churches from unequal treatment during the crisis, such as a Mississippi church whose congregants were fined for sitting in their cars during services. Such bullying of the faithful illustrates how de-Christianized America has become. Or take Bill de Blasio threatening to close churches permanently if their members dared to gather. Historians may look back and find it astonishing that church leaders submitted to such treatment. That docility is itself a measure of our secularist age.
Here and there religious leaders have raised objections. But too many have served as stooges for the nanny-state liberals. They have rendered too much to Caesar. It is sick to see abortion clinics open and churches closed. It is outrageous that California Gov. Gavin Newsom and company haven’t even gotten around to thinking about opening churches, while tattoo parlors and the like open their doors.
The bishops in Washington state have struck a note of defiance not against lockdown secularists but against Donald Trump. They issued a statement on Friday vowing to say closed.
In a different age, church leaders would have rushed to back a president who called their services “essential.” In this wilting age, church leaders instead accept their marginalized status and bow before leaders who treat them as irrelevant. People will look back at this crisis and laugh that it was the barbers, not the bishops, who pushed back against the lockdown.