Religious Rights Are “Essential”
Updated: May 2
In Matthew 5:14-16, Christians are encouraged “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Christians are meant to be a blessing to the world, to bring light to darkness.
As a nation, the United States has long benefited from the strong Christian values that preserved our nation and the protestant work ethic that encouraged our industrial development.  In fact, President George Washington’s farewell addressed contained this stark warning:
And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. 
To say that religion is “nonessential” denies the truth of America’s history. Without religion and Christianity, it is safe to say the United States would not have been a very successful nation. The ethical system that it encourages is beneficial and one of the primary reasons for our prosperity.
Nonetheless, some state governors, like Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer, have deemed churches to be nonessential services. While Governor Whitmer maintained that churches needed to remain closed, she deemed abortion clinics to be an essential service.  The view that abortions are “essential,” “life-sustaining” services is shocking in and of itself, however, the most glaring problem with this policy is that the governor’s office does not appear to have had any particular standard for determining what was or was not an “essential” service.
Churches and governors across the country are being challenged by the national pressure to issue social distancing orders that restrict the ability of churches to meet in person. The legality of this kind of religious restriction is still unclear. In late April. U.S. District Judge John Broomes in Wichita issued an order temporarily stopping Kansas Governor Laura Kelly from limiting worship services. The federal judge has expressed doubt that the order barring churches from meeting in groups larger than ten is defensible. He believes that it is likely in violation of the right to the free exercise of religion. 
The Kansas judge is not alone, Jenna Ellis, a Constitutional scholar and counsel to the President, believes that many of these orders are in violation of our basic religious liberty. She said, “This notion of deeming private business “essential” or not is probably the biggest challenge and constitutionally problematic issue in state and local orders. This is arbitrary, and it’s highly doubtful this action would pass constitutional muster.” 
Limiting the ability of churches to be a positive influence in this time of crisis is a slippery slope and diminishes the good that they can do for those in need. In 2 Corinthians 9:8-11, it says that Christians will “abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.’” Religious worship is essential for believers and it preserves their morale, enabling them to bless others and “abound in every good work.” This is especially important in this time of fear and uncertainty.
Not only are churches a fundamental service, they are critical in a nation that is in desperate need of spiritual comfort. More than anything else, the protection of religious rights should be considered of the greatest importance. Fundamental rights should not be limited lightly and Americans ought to do their best to defend them because they are more “essential” than ever.
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 Daniel Luzer, “The Protestant Work Ethic Is Real,” Pacific Standard (June 14, 2017), https://psmag.com/economics/protestant-worth-ethic-real-65544
 “Transcript of President George Washington's Farewell Address (1796),” OurDocuments.gov (n.d.), ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=15&page=transcript
 “Ep. 380 — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer,” The Axe Files with David Axelrod (April 16, 2020), https://podcasts.google.com/?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5tZWdhcGhvbmUuZm0vYXhlZmlsZXM&episode=ZTQzOTJkNzEtMTRhNS00ZmYxLTljNjEtYWI5ZTAwMmMwZGY1&hl=en&ved=2ahUKEwiM1_2at-7oAhUJt54KHYnsCWAQieUEegQICxAE&ep=6
 John Hanna, “Federal Judge Doubts Kansas COVID-19 Rule, Blocks it for 2 Churches,” TIME (April 19, 2020), https://time.com/5823881/kansas-religious-gathering-people-limits/
 Jenna Ellis, “Why It’s Unconstitutional To Keep Grocery Stores Open While Closing Churches,” The Federalist (April 6, 2020), https://thefederalist.com/2020/04/06/why-its-unconstitutional-to-keep-grocery-stores-open-while-closing-churches/#.Xox8iARUO24.facebook