For Immediate Release
Troy, MI (May 28, 2020)
On May 26, 2020, the County Executive of Howard County, Maryland issued a public health executive order that as written and issued would have effectively prohibited consuming communion at churches. Thankfully, however, recent news reports indicate and the Howard County government itself has announced it will adjust the county’s restrictions to permit the consumption of communion at religious institutions. Nonetheless, it is shocking that this executive order was even issued and is worth reflecting on what is transpiring in parts of the United States in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recognizing that Howard County changed its course as of today, the May 26th executive order included provision II (4) that stated, “There shall be no consumption of food or beverage of any kind before, during, or after religious services, including food or beverage that would typically be consumed as part of a religious service”.
“As it was issued, the county’s initial prohibition would have precluded the reception of the Eucharist by both the celebrating priest and the parishioners. By virtue of Catholic teaching, the Liturgy of the Eucharist is an essential part of the Mass and it is illicit and invalid to have a Mass without the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We are grateful that the county is moving away from its initial restrictions on communion but remain gravely concerned not only for Howard County but also about other county and municipal government actions in other parts of the country during this pandemic. It is very hard to understand how any state or local government or public health official would use an executive order to dictate the kinds of religious expression that are permissible in a house of worship especially when the same executive order permits commercial businesses such as barber shops, hair salons, and retail establishments to operate at 50% capacity,”– Michael Vacca, J.D., the head of bioethics for the Christ Medicus Foundation (CMF) and former staffer for the Pontifical Council for the Family.
“It is great that Howard County has changed course, but it is a serious problem that the county ever believed it had the authority to ban reception of communion because of a public health emergency. First, the executive order as written would have been a clear violation of the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. No government, at any level, has the authority to tell churches how they must celebrate their own liturgy. Second, it is clear from guidance provided by Catholic medical professionals that such a prohibition on communion is not whatsoever medically necessary to maintaining public health and safety. Third, as the U.S. Department of Justice has reinforced, there is no ‘public health exception’ to our civil rights enshrined within the U.S. Constitution and given by God. This Howard County incident is a symptom of what we are seeing in certain parts of the country where some government and public health officials believe a public health emergency gives them the authority to infringe on religious freedom of their citizens and to disregard the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Man cannot live without Jesus Christ, and we know that as much as we must do everything we can to protect public health and safety, God and our freedom of religion are essential. We should never be pushed into a false choice between religious freedom and public health. If anything, religious faith—a faith that drives countless health care workers to risks their lives for love of God and neighbor—and public health and safety are mutually beneficial values that advance the wellbeing of our families, communities, and the country,”– Louis Brown Jr., J.D., Executive Director of CMF.
“From the earliest days of our nation’s history, the founders sought to prevent an excessive entanglement between church and state for the sake of protecting churches from state interference. Though they have changed course, this week we have seen what it looks like when a government entity attempts to tell churches how to practice their religion. The Howard County matter is not an isolated incident and is cause for all Americans to be vigilant to ensure that state and local governments both safeguard public health and safety and continue to protect our religious freedom and other civil rights and liberties,”– Jordan Buzza, J.D., director of the CMF CURO health care ministry.
About the Christ Medicus Foundation (christmedicus.org): The Christ Medicus Foundation is a Catholic 501(c)3 non-profit, dedicated to sharing God’s love through defending religious freedom in health care; expanding the availability of Christ-centered Catholic medical care, especially for the poor and vulnerable; and providing an affordable Catholic health care solution to individuals and families.
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