This week a pastor was arrested and charged with criminal offenses for holding a worship service. Let us note that this event occurred not in North Korea or Saudi Arabia, but the United States of America. Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, of Revival International Ministries, turned himself into authorities after leading his congregation in Sunday worship, which put him in violation of his county’s “stay-at-home” order.
Hillsborough County in Florida, like many other states and localities across the country, has forcibly shut down all establishments that it has deemed “non-essential.” As far as I know, no government at any level, anywhere in the nation, has deigned to label churches essential. Our Founding Fathers, who gave the right to assemble and the right to practice religion pride of place in the Bill of Rights, seemed to have disagreed. But in these times we are not subject to the opinions of the Founding Fathers or even the legal document they wrote. We have entered a point in our history where governors, mayors, and local county boards, can come up with any rule they like, outlaw whatever behavior they don’t like, and enforce their edicts at gun point. But to question this new system, I have been repeatedly informed, is to wish death on our nation’s elderly population.
Pastor Howard-Browne insists that his church took many precautions. Hand sanitizer was given out. Staff wore gloves. Congregants were spaced out as much as possible. They may not have all been 6 feet apart, but they were certainly better spaced than you will be if you wait in line at the grocery store. As it happens, you can go to the grocery store 10 times a day and load your cart up with snacks, candy, and soda. You can then stand in a crowd of densely packed people as you wait to purchase your items from a cashier who may or may not be wearing gloves. All of this, says our Dear Leaders, is both safe and essential. But sitting in a church, a few feet from the next person, taking care to cover your mouth when you cough, and making sure that your hands are washed, is both unsafe and inessential. Does that make any real sense? Probably not. Can the government simply declare all churches non-essential, close them indefinitely, and thus circumvent the First Amendment with so much ease as to render it effectively nullified from here on out? I doubt that was ever what the men who wrote it had in mind, but here we are.
Meanwhile, many states have officially labeled abortion clinics essential, and allowed them to continue killing humans during a shut down that is supposed to prevent humans from being killed. States that have tried to put the abortion business in the non-essential camp have been overruled by federal judges. As it stands right now, you have no right to go to church or worship in communion with your fellow believers. You do still have the right to kill your child. Never mind the fact that abortionists are probably not able to maintain “social distance” while they perform the execution. That practical point, just like the Constitutional and moral point, is irrelevant. We are being governed according to the whims of bureaucrats and politicians who themselves do not appear to be answerable to any higher Earthly authority. This is necessary to keep us safe, we are told. And we believe it, many of us. Forgetting that all tyranny, everywhere, and through all time, has been justified on similar grounds.
I am trying to imagine a definition of “religious liberty” that includes the government closing churches indefinitely on the basis that they are not essential enough to remain open. I cannot think of one that would be at all cogent or meaningful. Indeed, it has become obvious (if it wasn’t already) that our mainstream notions of “liberty” and “rights” and “freedom” are largely nonsensical, as evidenced by the people who normally assert these concepts as absolutes but now insist that the government has the unquestioned power to lock us in our homes and shut our businesses for as long as it pleases.
Most of us, it turns out, do not have a governing philosophy or set of principles. We are slaves to our emotions. So, if the government scares us enough, we will rip the “Give me liberty or give me death” and “Don’t tread on me” bumper stickers off of our cars and stuff them in the closet while we cower along side it. Then when the threat has passed — or at least we are told that it has passed — we will proudly affix the bumper stickers back on our bumpers again, and sing bravely about our love of freedom.