In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, governmental bodies across the nation temporarily restricted large gatherings, limited in-person instruction at schools, required people to wear masks, and required certain people to be vaccinated. These public-health measures were met with a wave of religion-based challenges seeking exemptions for religious or religiously motivated activities. Tragically, the importance of the limitations was demonstrated by numerous deadly COVID-19 outbreaks across the country that were traced to church services.
Americans United has responded by filing amicus briefs explaining that while the free exercise of religion is critical, it does not provide a right to expose the community to an infectious disease—and that granting special privileges to religion during the coronavirus crisis puts religious freedom and public health at risk. We have filed more than fifty briefs defending public-health orders and statutes from religious challenges, in emergency litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court; the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th, and 10th Circuits; federal district courts in California, Connecticut, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia; and state courts in Texas and Virginia. Four courts specifically cited our briefs, noting that our efforts were helpful to the courts in rendering their decisions; in one case, a New Mexico federal district court heard oral argument from Americans United’s Associate Vice President & Associate Legal Director, Alex Luchenitser.