Protecting Religious Freedom During the Coronavirus Pandemic
On Nov. 25, 2020, the Supreme Court undermined religious freedom and public health by ruling against New York's public health order and giving freer rein for larger religious gatherings to occur. AU CEO Rachel Laser issued a statement following the ruling.
The Supreme Court’s order misuses religious freedom and endangers the public health of everyone in New York. With coronavirus cases spiking across the country, we should be heeding the advice of public health experts who recommend limiting large gatherings. COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate between religious and secular gatherings; on numerous occasions, infections at houses of worship have led to major outbreaks in surrounding communities.
- AU CEO Rachel Laser
Even during hard times – especially during hard times – we must defend the Constitution. Americans United is playing a lead role in protecting our constitutional right to religious freedom as new attempts to undermine church-state separation surface in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Learn more about temporary limits on religious gatherings through this FAQ document.
We know that the only way to guarantee religious freedom is to keep religion and government separate. Granting special privileges to religion during this coronavirus crisis puts religious freedom and public health at risk.
We applaud the faith communities that are finding creative ways to worship together remotely, and we hope people will find comfort by participating in virtual services. We may be physically apart, but we will get through this public health crisis together – even if it’s together in new ways.
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., we’ve seen government leaders, houses of worship and private religious schools seek religious exemptions from public health orders that temporarily limit large, in-person gatherings or require people to wear masks or get vaccinations.
On April 12, 2021, 27 faith organizations released a statement opposing state bills that would exempt houses of worship & religious gatherings from government orders related to public health emergencies—like COVID. Read their statement here.
AU has filed at least 50 amicus briefs in court cases across the country, including in the U.S. Supreme Court. We've urged judges in cases from California, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas and Virginia not to grant demands for religious exemptions from public health orders. So far, courts have ruled in more than 50 related cases nationwide and at least 40 courts have protected religious freedom and public health by refusing to grant religious exemptions for in-person worship services.
AU also sent letters to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, New Mexico Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, urging them to protect the public health & religious freedom by including houses of worship in their executive orders preventing people from gathering in large groups. After our letters, both Kansas and New Mexico changed their public health orders to include religious services in their bans on large gatherings.
AU also has filed amicus briefs in recent cases that seek religious exemptions from school vaccination requirements, including in Connecticut and New York. Religious freedom doesn’t provide immunity from life-threatening diseases or from laws that are meant to protect everyone equally.