Balancing Religious Freedoms and Public Health Protections During the COVID-19 Pandemic
3 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2020
Date Written: June 4, 2020
Extraordinary responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are generating substantial debates over the scope and reach of public health powers and religious freedoms. Emergency declarations at every level of government to limit societal impacts of COVID-19 may shift constitutional norms, but do not completely negate rights to free exercise or assemble. Yet, no one has an unmitigated right to harm others in pursuit of their faith. Somewhere between individual religious rights and communal public health objectives lies a legally viable balance. Finding it during the pandemic is controversial. Among the most contentious issues are governments’ temporary orders suspending large religious gatherings to maintain social distances. While many religious leaders have complied, others have vociferously objected. Reaching accord begins with an assessment of legal principles of separation of church and state, especially concerning claims of religious rights to assemble despite unprecedented public health risks.
Keywords: COVID, church, state, separation, constitution, religion, First Amendment, freedom, public health, powers, emergency, separation
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