Advancing Life and Liberty Through Action

State Governments Must Uphold Our Rights Set Forth in the Constitution

Apr 24, 2020

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many have seen their lives suddenly very different from what they ever imagined. Life as people knew it effectively came to a stand-still. Governments world-wide are enacting policies in a bid to slow the spread. Scientists in the medical field are scrambling to create a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

Global oil prices have plummeted due to a decrease in demand as most routes for airplanes and cruise liners have been cancelled, leading to fleets being grounded. With people staying home, the lockdowns have also led to fewer driving demands which has also contributed to the drop in oil prices. Stock markets have hit record lows and the global economy is effectively in a free fall with a global recession looming.

Amid this turmoil, there is another crisis that has risen in the United States due to the unprecedented circumstances that have occurred. That crisis is the violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms set forth by the Founding Fathers that are core to American society.

It is expected of America's leaders at both the state and federal level to take precautions in order to protect people during a pandemic. This can be done through educational campaigns, providing suggestions, and the creation of mandates if necessary.

However, some of the mandates imposed by governors are unconstitutional. As of the 19th of April 2020, the state of New York was issued a mandate, effective immediately, pursuant to Executive Order 202.10. The Executive Order implements an extension to a ban on congregate religious services in houses of worship and includes a ban on all gatherings in homes for religious services as well.

An excerpt from the mandate from Executive Order 202.10 reads as follows:

Congregate services within houses of worship are prohibited. Houses of worship may only be used by individuals and only where appropriate social distancing of, at least, six feet between people can be maintained. Further, individuals should not gather in houses of worship, homes, or other locations for religious services until the end of this public health emergency (ESD N.Y., 2020).

The issue with this mandate is that it is unconstitutional, unfair, illogical, and nonsensical.

It is unconstitutional because according to the Constitution of The United States of America, Amendment 1,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances (U.S. Const. amend. I, rev 1992).

Law makers and appointed leaders in government are prohibited from discriminating against religious activities. The Constitution applies because that is the highest law in the United States, and no one is above that law.

New York has, however, like many other states, kept liquor stores open because these are deemed an essential service. It can be assumed that New York's reason for labeling liquor stores as essential is the same reason that New Jersey's Democratic Governor, Phil Murphy gave during an interview with Fox News' Tucker Carlson. When asked about the decision to label liquor stores as essential, Governor Murphy said, "We relied on a whole lot of reasonable input from recovery coaches, addiction coaches and they cautioned us that if we were to shut all those stores down, we'd have unintended mental health and addiction prices to pay – unintended consequences and so far that's the route we've taken (Murphy, 2020)." It can be reasonably assumed that for a similar reason New York State followed suit.

However, the New York order is unfair because if liquor stores are considered essential services for the reasons of mental health, then by the same logic religious services should even more so be considered an essential service.

The attendees of religious establishments base and model their entire lives and ways of living on their religious tenets. When it comes to religion, people do not attend services on the premise that it is just a tradition to satisfy some 'belief.' Attendees live with the assurance that their spirituality is absolute truth and very real. Many also realize how the spiritual dimension is of more importance, as all aspects of it are eternal in nature, as compared to the temporary nature of the present dimension we live in.

With this reality, leaders should at the very least treat religious services with the same seriousness as they do liquor stores. You would think by their logic they would see that spirituality is something that is held with high regard and may lead to negative mental consequences if it is banned. It is upsetting to think that some governments are willing to feed an alcohol addiction but are not willing to feed principles of eternal importance.

That said, it is important to note that recklessness is not being promoted. Safety should be taken seriously and those that are sick or susceptible should be encouraged to participate online. But if liquor and grocery stores can be open and operate in a safe fashion mid-pandemic, religious houses of worship can also operate in a similar fashion in which attendees are required to sit at least 6 feet apart.

Finally, the mandate seems a bit illogical in that it states, "Congregate services within houses of worship are prohibited. Houses of worship may only be used by individuals and only where appropriate social distancing of, at least, six feet between people can be maintained (ESD N.Y., 2020)."

This raises a question: If the mandate allows individuals to gather in houses of worship in instances where social distancing can be maintained, as outlined in the quote, then why can't a religious service be allowed if the congregants adhere to the same set of guidelines?

This Executive Order seems like a nonsensical attack on religious freedom that has no connection to keeping people safe from the COVID-19 pandemic. We should expect better from our appointed leaders who are supposed to have the best interests at heart of the people they serve, despite their personal religious views. Yes, we are in unprecedented times, but the Constitution of The United States of America doesn't become void in a crisis. It is the unifying and core set of principles that have made this nation the greatest nation in modern history.

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