Most states that have issued shelter-in-place warnings have made an explicit exemption for churches and religious gatherings, including most recently, Texas and Florida. Both states, when the governors realized that people of faith were confused about whether or not their church was an “essential service” issued memos explaining that First Amendment rights were not canceled during the coronavirus pandemic. However, Montana’s Democrat governor, Steve Bullock, made no exception for churches, even though he made explicit exceptions for abortion clinics, pot dispensaries, and liquor stores.
But the greatest tragedy in all of this is that it has betrayed a fundamental ignorance regarding what a right is in the first place.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”
A “right” is something that is inherent and inviolable. It is something that exists without permission from any earthly power or authority. A privilege, on the other hand, is a grant of permission from an earthly authority that can be dispensed or taken away based upon the whims of that authority.
For example, traveling freely is a right. Driving, however, is a privilege. Feeding yourself is a right. Hunting for a specific kind of game during a specific season, however, is a privilege. Get it?
Our constitutional rights are rights. They are not permission slips granted by the government to be used in a time, place, and manner of their choosing based upon community needs. They are rights granted by our Creator and only recognized by the government; they are not granted, but stated.
The person who says, “This is only a temporary. What does it matter?” is actually throwing the entire concept of religious liberty out the window. While it may be “no big deal” to cancel services to appease the government for a specific period of time, these people are actually ceding to the government the power to revoke rights and replace them with privileges. These unthinking people are dangerous.
If the ability to gather freely is a privilege and not a right, we have to answer questions like, “What is this supposed emergency? What constitutes an emergency? Who gets to call the conditions a crisis? When can the ability to worship be given back?” But all of these questions are asked upon the supposition that the government gets to grant permission slips for worship. And that, my friends, is a miscarriage of justice. It does not bode well for our future.
Other mindless auto-pilot drones merely argue that the government has not taken away the freedom of religion, but only the freedom to gather for worship. Of course, I stare at those making such an argument like Jews stared at the Samaritans. My religion requires gathering for worship, thank you very much. I wonder what kind of bizarre sub-Christian sect doesn’t require assemblies. Whatever it is, it is not Christian. But again, such a notion is presupposed upon the government wielding power to determine how my religion is to be observed.
Those who say, “I do not need to attend church to exercise the First Amendment,” sound an awful lot like someone who says, “I do not need an AR-15 to exercise the Second Amendment.” Because these things are rights and not privileges, the government isn’t empowered to tell me how to worship or what guns to own. Frankly, it’s none of their business.
A mature-minded person thinks about setting precedent in all things. If we let the government close our churches, then what does it mean we believe about the nature of rights in general? Frankly, it means we don’t really believe in religious liberties at all. We only believe in religious privileges, which may or may not be granted to us depending upon the latest crisis.