By Rebecca Rifkind-Brown
Since the first outbreaks of the coronavirus in the United States a few months ago, houses of worship have been a site of contention as some religious leaders demanded that their services be exempt from the public health orders that restricted large public gatherings.
As the issue played out, numerous courts, including eventually the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled that government officials have the right to restrict in-person meetings, whether secular or religious.
As many states have started to open up in the last few weeks and relax their restrictions, the number of coronavirus cases in many of those states has started to spike. Still, despite the increasing cases and public health risk, some religious leaders, backed by President Donald Trump, have pressured state governments to allow houses of worship to reopen for in-person services.
A recent study by the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), however, shows that most Americans are wary of this move, and despite what Christian nationalists may assert, the people are in no rush to return to in-person services. Even in congregations that now offer in-person services, 56% of the survey respondents said that they still chose to not attend.
In fact, only a small population of Americans feel comfortable returning to their houses of worship. It is the same group of people who were attacking or, in some instances, ignoring stay-at-home orders that restricted large public gatherings at houses of worship: white evangelicals. According to the recent survey, 34% of white evangelicals felt very comfortable returning to services, 27% felt somewhat comfortable, 21% felt somewhat uncomfortable, and 16% very uncomfortable.
The number of white evangelicals who felt comfortable attending in-person services marks a stark contrast to most other Christian denominations. Among Black Protestants, only 9% responded that they would feel very comfortable attending in-person church services, and 42% said that they would feel very uncomfortable. White and Hispanic Catholics responded similarly to Black Protestants, with the majority saying that they would be uncomfortable attending services.
The differences in responses to the survey are reflective of partisan distinctions in this country. The AEI poll found that 72% of Democrats said they have at least some concerns that a member of their household will fall ill to coronavirus, but only 43% of Republicans shared that fear.
As states reopen and loosen their restrictions, it is important to remember that despite the urging from Christian nationalist groups, the majority of Americans still do not feel comfortable exposing themselves to large public gatherings where the risk of infection is heightened. They’d rather take the sensible course of skipping services or attending them remotely.
Americans United continues to work to ensure that religious organizations don’t receive special privileges during the pandemic that permit them to endanger public health. We’d love to have your support!