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USA: 34 People Connected with One Arkansas Church Have Tested Positive for COVID-19

Yes, Governors Can Legally Force Churches to Close Because of COVID-19

Wednesday 25 March 2020, by siawi3


34 People Connected with One Arkansas Church Have Tested Positive for COVID-19

By Hemant Mehta

March 24, 2020

The First Assemblies of God Church in Greers Ferry, Arkansas says that 34 people connected with the ministry have tested positive for COVID-19.

All of them were in the building during a “recent children’s event,” though it’s not clear how recently that event took place. There is a post online, however, noting a children’s event at the church on March 6.

31 infected people are members or staffers.

Two are visiting evangelists.

One is a child.

Several others are awaiting their own test results.

Pastor Mark Palenske and his wife are among the infected.

Whatever his ignorance was in the past, he’s making it clear on Facebook that everyone should be listening to experts:

This virus is highly contagious and it is no respecter of persons. It seemingly picks its victim at random, so it’s best to remain very vigilant in hygiene protocols to the very best of your abilities…

I would love to have you take this medical threat more seriously. Maybe you assumed that it couldn’t happen to you, just like I did. Please adhere to the social instructions that you are receiving locally and nationally. We must keep the affected population to as low a number as possible. Our singular act of stubborn independence can have far reaching effects on someone else’s life. [March 19]

… There was very little in my training for the ministry that covered the full measure of what our church family has dealt with in the past few weeks. The intensity of this virus has been underestimated by so many, and I continue to ask that each of you take it very seriously. An act of wisdom and restraint on your part can be the blessing that preserves the health of someone else. [March 22]

So now he gets it.

It took dozens of people suffering — maybe more — but he eventually figured out Jesus is no match for a virus that doesn’t give a damn what anyone believes.



Yes, Governors Can Legally Force Churches to Close Because of COVID-19

By Hemant Mehta

March 24, 2020

Yesterday, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, issued a stay-at-home order that did not grant an exemption for churches. His sensible statement made it clear that churches were to be closed due to COVID-19:

[QUESTION:] Can I attend a religious service?

[ANSWER:] Large gatherings, including church services, will be canceled to slow the spread of COVID-19. Religious leaders are encouraged to continue livestreaming services while practicing social distancing with one another.

Yes! Exactly. When churches are allowed to remain open, they’re putting their members and their communities at risk. The virus can spread where people gather, and Jesus isn’t about to confer immunity upon anyone. Even if church members aren’t showing any symptoms, they could become carriers of the disease and endanger others.

Michigan and Ohio are among the states where the governors have not gone that far even if they’ve urged churches not to meet in person.

Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rationalized this by citing “the separation of church and state” and claiming “that’s an area that we don’t have the ability to enforce and control.”

But none of that is true.

Kelsey Dallas, the national religion reporter for the Deseret News, has a helpful article explaining why governors have every right to shut down churches during this crisis.

In short, as long as the rules aren’t singling out religious gatherings specifically, governors can order them to shut down as part of broader regulations:

Policies don’t violate religious freedom laws if they’re created in order to save people’s lives, said Michael Moreland, director of the Ellen H. McCullen Center for Law, Religion and Public Policy at Villanova University.

“So long as those restrictions are neutral and applicable to everybody, religious institutions have to abide by them,” he said.

Dallas notes that states already do this: There are fire codes, for example, that regulate how many people can be in a building. Those apply to churches just as they do a movie theater.

Plus, there’s a compelling reason to enforce these rules. The government has a high bar to meet, legally speaking, when it tells people of faith to do anything. When President Obama wanted employers to provide comprehensive health care for their workers, Hobby Lobby said they went too far, violating the Christian owners’ beliefs, and the Supreme Court agreed. That case involved birth control.

But it’s hard to imagine any court saying preventative measures against COVID-19 — ones that apply to places of worship just as they do everywhere else — are a bridge too far.

So, yes, governors can and should shut down church gatherings in the same way they’re shutting down public schools and restaurants. Treat them fairly. Treat them equally. There’s nothing illegal going on no matter how many pastors whine about religious discrimination.