Religious freedom partially reinstated in California and Minnesota.

The First Amendment by Ed Uthman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The state governments of California and Minnesota have given their permission for people of faith to partially engage in the free exercise of their religious beliefs.

5/25/20 – Daily Bulletin –Newsom: California places of worship can reopen with limited capacity and San Francisco Chronicle – Newsom issues plans for places of worship in California to reopen at limited capacity – Places of worship in the state can begin having in-person worship.

At least that’s what all the headlines say.

Look at the detail for more than 15 seconds and you realize there’s only a fractional restoration of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, along with the fractional restoration of the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Remaining restrictions include:

  • Attendance may not be more than 25% of the building capacity.
  • There may not be more than 100 people in attendance.
  • The county Department of Public Health has to give their consent for churches to exercise the First Amendment.
  • County Department of Public Health can monitor health and impose further restrictions at will.

Public protests against the severe constraints on religious, political and economic freedom are now allowed, instead of being banned. Again the requirement is you cannot have more than 100 people present. Even if you are outside.

So, it is only a partial restoration of the first amendment.

Take a look at the list of the churches that signed the declaration that they will open on May 31. The few names I recognized are mega-churches. I will guess they have seating for anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000, or maybe up to 4000 people. They can only have 100 per worship.

That means they can worship at about 10%, or 5%, or 2.5% of capacity.

One church I’m aware of would need to hold about 70 or 80 worship services on a Sunday in order to have everyone participate. If they started a worship service every 90 minutes beginning at 8 a.m with last one ending at 9 p.m. every day it would only 8 or 9 days to have enough services for everyone to have a chance to worship.

As you’ll see in the next article, Minnesota allows 50% capacity. Limit is 250 people.

If any of the churches in California planning to open on May 31 assess the 100 count worship limit to be intentionally directed at them, I would understand how they might reached that conclusion.

5/23/20 – PJ Media –Victory for Civil Disobedience: Gov. Loosens Church Restrictions After Catholics, Lutherans Unite and 5/24/20 – Star Tribune – Gov. Tim Walz to let Minnesota churches open at 25% occupancy– Back on 5/13/20, governor of Minnesota issued an order which allowed malls, shops, marijuana sellers, and other retail stores to open at 50% capacity. There is another constraint place on the first amendment – no more than 250 people may worship at the same time. So that huge sanctuary that can seat 1,500 or 2,000 people?  Tough. Only 250 may worship.

A phased reopening was announced for bars, hair salons, and restaurants. Specifically not mentioned were any plans for allowing religious worship to expand beyond 10 people.

The executive directors of the Minnesota Catholic Conference and a large Lutheran denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (full disclosure I am a member of a church which is affiliated with the LCMS), would allow their churches to begin worship on May 24 at 33% capacity.

It would seem that after these two denominational headquarters called attention to the fact that the executive order constitutes a discriminatory action against places of worship the governor must have gone back and re-read the U.S. Constitution. He might have even taken a look at the extensive federal case law on the issue of unnecessary restrictions on religious organizations.

On Saturday, the governor allowed churches in Minnesota to open up at 25% capacity (limit 250 worshipers) starting 5/27/20.

Congregations in the ELCA and UMC will not be reopening soon. The Hindu Society of Minnesota will consider their next steps.

In other words Catholic, LCMS, ELCA, UMC, Hindu, and places of worship in every other faith tradition may now make their own assessment of when to open up for in-person worship. They have the freedom (there’s that word again!) to decide for themselves what is best for themselves.

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