A right to worship — responsibly
“Houses of worship are conspicuously — and thankfully — absent from Gov. Tom Wolf’s latest restrictions (Dec. 11, “Three-Week Closure Includes Indoor Dining, Bars, Gyms”), especially during this holiday season.
The absence of such restrictions in Pennsylvania can be traced to last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning restrictions on houses of worship in New York. The court found New York violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment by unfairly imposing more restrictions on houses of worship than were placed on secular businesses. As the unsigned opinion stated, “[E]ven in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”
This does not exempt houses of worship from implementing health and safety guidelines. It does reflect an appreciation of our Bill of Rights and a recognition that houses of worship have not been sources of coronavirus spread.
Nevertheless, the court’s decision has drawn ire with commentators accusing “activist conservative justices” of misplaced priorities that improperly benefit religion. The exercise of religion is seen as having no value or as being detrimental, reinforcing the notion that there is no reason to practice faith during a deadly pandemic.”