Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested at his home in Hernando County, FL on Monday. His crime? He intentionally and repeatedly held church services at Tampa Bay Church despite officials in his county having mandated Executive Order 20-05 in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Howard Browne was specifically arrested for unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules. In other words, this pastor was arrested for upholding his first amendment right—freedom of religion.
The Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio announced during a press conference that as of March 31 all worship services are to shut down in accordance with the “shelter in place” ordinance that has been strictly enacted in the five boroughs to help slow the spread of the virus. De Blasio stated, “If you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church, and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services.”
The Mayor did not specifically mention “mosques” or religious worship centers that were not expressly Jewish and Christian. Instead, de Blasio went on to fully threaten, “If that does not happen, they will take additional action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently. You’ve been warned, you need to stop services.”
In Louisiana, Pastor Tony Spell was arrested Tuesday morning and charged with six counts of misdemeanor for holding religious services in defiance of Governor John Bel Edwards’ (D-LA) “stay at home order.” Spell has been slapped with a $500 fine and faces up to six months in prison, according to East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore.
Spell has said—after an initial March 18 police warning—that the state was trampling on his first amendment rights. He further told his congregation, “Do not let the fear of persecution of any government official, any dictator law, prevent you from worshipping God, which our First Amendment states you are not allowed to do in any form.”
According to officials in the Tampa Bay Sheriff’s Department, the NYC Mayor’s Office, Governor John Bell Edwards’ Office, and others across the country, faith and worship are “not essential”.
Here’s a critical question that believers ought to be asking right now—what gives the government the legal right to dictate to you that your worship of God is not essential? Is the first amendment essential? Or should our civil liberties be suspended during times of crisis? What is the purpose of having constitutional rights if we cannot depend on and assert them no matter what is going on in the world?
I would go so far as to argue that it’s mainly during times of national crisis when a citizen would most likely need to assert and enact their constitutional rights.
But not everyone agrees. Even conservatives and Christians have remained eerily silent on this issue, and obeyed. Volitional obedience is not what I’m questioning, however—though I personally judge it. Rather, I’m questioning religious communities that have not responded to these mandates. Why aren’t our churches at least debating this issue, which clearly impacts our freedom to practice our religion. Yes, the government has insisted that crowds larger than 10 people, if gathered, will promote the spread of coronavirus. When worshippers are congregated for religious purposes, should public health supersede our constitutional rights? Should officials have the legal right to forcibly disburse worship gatherings?
Please bear in mind that while worship services have been deemed “non-essential” and while hospitals have announced that elective surgeries must be postponed to aid in alleviating overwhelmed healthcare workers, you can get an abortion if you want. Abortions have been deemed “essential”. According to federal judges, to classify abortions as “non-essential” due to this pandemic would be a violation of a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.
What in the holy hell is going on here? Freedom of religion—an obvious constitutional right—has been put on hold, but preventing a woman from terminating an unwanted pregnancy has not been put on hold… even when “elective surgeries” have been? Is this still America?
Arguments have included headcount. Church gatherings of more than 10 people is now unlawful, but it only takes two to abort a human life, see? I’m not going to debate headcount. I’m debating why we, as a people and as a church, are passively allowing our right to worship to be suspended due to a national crisis. Something very wrong is happening.
We, as a people, need to be highly alert to politicians—and the leftist media, too—using this pandemic to push their political agendas that violate or reshape our American rights.
Freedom to practice religion is a critical aspect of the rights this country was founded on. Religion thrives in America and religion matters to us. If the government pursues shutting down religious services on a national scale, the very attempt would be illegitimate and in outstanding violation of our constitutional rights.
Americans, we have to be careful that we do not become backed into an impossible situation wherein we’re forced to choose between “saving lives” versus maintaining our rights. At this point, we’re not just talking about a pandemic, we’re talking about a highly politicized agenda that is being pushed to advance political goods.
Historically, when the government has taken more power for themselves, our rights diminished. Believe it or not, there was a time when you weren’t at the mercy of a stranger taking you into a small, windowless room in the back of an airport to touch you all over. But thanks to the Patriot Act, TSA was put into place and their agents get to do precisely that. According to TSA, the fact that you’re interested in getting on an airplane is reason enough to suspect that you’re carrying a bomb on your person or in your luggage. This wasn’t the only legislation that resulted from 9/11, and we’ve all gotten used to TSA—most Americans appreciate it. But do we want to get used to what is happening right now?
If what we are experiencing right now is the first-fruits of a dramatic seizure of power, should we be complacent, cooperative, and comply?
How would our founding fathers respond to such a situation? If mayors and officials like de Blasio permanently shut down our houses of worship—a direct violation of our 1st amendment rights—then our founding fathers would recommend armed revolt, and we would be operating within our constitutional rights to arm ourselves and assert our liberties.
The 2nd amendment—our American right to bear arms—was included in the bill of rights for many reasons. Yes, we have a legal right to defend our lives and our property. But we also have a right to defend our constitutional liberties. Our founding fathers were protecting us from the possibility of a corrupt government revoking our rights.
As a society, we have been indoctrinated over the last 10 – 15 years to believe that guns are evil, however, and that only evil people would want to possess firearms. Some camps of Americans have even gone so far as to suggest that private citizens shouldn’t even have guns.
This mentality is even more dangerous than officials boldly suspending our constitutional rights. Agreement is the real threat.
Any American who would yield their constitutional rights due to this pandemic, as if doing so is evidence of authentic patriotism—virtuous and commendable—has no concept of why this country was founded in the first place.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
I’m not suggesting that Annie ought to get her gun…
…but I am urging Americans to keep their eyes open.