Yesterday a federal court ruled against a church in Lodi, Calif., that seeks to hold in-person services in spite of stay-at-home orders issued by officials with the state and San Joaquin County.

U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez denied Cross Culture Christian Center’s request for an order allowing it to physically meet. In his decision, Mendez twice cited a friend-of-the-court brief filed by Americans United.

Mendez’s decision contains a lot of good language, but it was especially gratifying to see him debunk what is becoming one of the more inane Christian nationalist talking points about coronavirus-related closures: Churches should be allowed to meet, and people can make up their own minds about whether to go.

Putting aside the fact that some people aren’t afforded the decision whether to go – children who are taken to services by their parents, for example – the argument betrays a dangerous form of ignorance of how this virus spreads. In court filings, the church’s leadership insisted that they “have never had or contracted coronavirus … never been at any time exposed to the danger of contracting it, and never been in any locality where coronavirus … has existed.”

Mendez, quoting a ruling from another federal court, made short work of the claim, calling it “largely meaningless” and asserting, “Indeed, the known reality of how unknown carriers transmit this highly-infectious disease further belies Plaintiffs’ argument.”

People can be asymptomatic, meaning that they are infected with coronavirus but don’t know they have it and aren’t showing any symptoms. These people can unwittingly infect other congregants at church services, and those members can then unknowingly transmit the virus to others outside their church.

A few days ago, Americans United received an unsolicited opinion column from a man who describes himself as a “Christian business leader.” He insists that churches open immediately, parroting the line that people should be able to do what they want.

“Opening the doors of the churches for people to choose to enter, or not (the same as always), is not willfully infecting people with the virus,” he wrote. “And who says that a virus is more powerful than the Spirit and Presence of God? Certainly, not us. Let each person prayerfully take responsibility for their own life. Attend or don’t attend. The doors should always be open for those who need us and want to come.”

The problem is, the people who choose to enter a church sooner or later leave it – and they may take with them a lethal virus that they don’t even know they have but are capable of passing on to others.

Thankfully, most American religious leaders realize this is irresponsible and are doing the right thing by moving services online or temporarily suspending them. Americans United will do its best to ensure that the selfish minority who are so eager to misuse religious freedom to spread sickness and risk people’s lives continue to be rebuffed by the courts. You can help our efforts by joining us!

Photo: Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi, Calif. Screenshot from KCRA-TV