The US Supreme Court has issued a very clear ruling that government officials cannot impose special restrictions on religious worship under Covid-emergency rules. If churches are subject to restrictions, the same restrictions must apply to other institutions; otherwise the rules are prima facie indications of discrimination against religion, which is forbidden by the First Amendment. This ruling, the Supreme Court has also clarified, must be applied by all federal courts.
So why did a federal court in Massachusetts reject a Catholic layman’s legal challenge to restrictions on worship? The court ruling explained: “There is no evidence, however, that the Archdiocese [of Boston] instituted its protocols only because of Governor Baker’s orders.” On the contrary: in Boston and in many other places, bishops have made a special point of saying that they are releasing special rules for their churches on their own authority, not because of the governor’s orders.
(And it’s just a coincidence, we are asked to believe, that the bishop’s orders happen to match up neatly with the particulars of the governor’s emergency regulations.)
A governor’s restrictions on churches can be appealed in a court of law. A bishop’s orders cannot. So when the bishop issues orders to his priests that match the governor’s restrictions, he thereby insulates the governor from legal challenge—from the sort of legal challenge for which the Supreme Court has already shown its sympathy.
So if you believe that the emergency restrictions in place where you live constitute a violation of your right to worship freely, don’t be too quick to blame the civil authorities. The blame might lie with your bishop.
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