Authorities Singling Out Religious Groups to Enforce Social Distancing Rules Will Face Action for Discrimination, AG Barr Says

Amanda Casanova

Authorities who choose to single out religious organizations to enforce social distancing rules will face action for discrimination, Attorney General William Barr’s office said.

In the week leading up to Easter, the attorney general’s office said they would begin “monitoring govt regulation of religious services,” The Christian Post reports.

“While social distancing policies are appropriate during this emergency, they must be applied evenhandedly & not single out religious orgs. Expect action from DOJ next week,” read a tweet from the official DOJ Twitter account on Saturday.

Many churches have turned to online or drive-in services, but many state officials have been uncertain about how to treat churches in light of social distancing rules.

In late March, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio considered closing churches and synagogues if they refused to follow a stay-at-home order. He was criticized for what others called an “unconstitutional threat.”

“De Blasio’s incendiary & unconstitutional threat to permanently shut down churches and synagogues must be retracted or corrected if it was a misstatement,” Tony Perkins, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and president of the Family Research Council wrote in a tweet. “This type of religious hostility is what fuels non-compliance because it reveals a motive beyond public safety.”

The president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee also called de Blasio’s comments unconstitutional.

“The First Amendment states that there should be no law that prohibits the free exercise of religion and constitutional protections are unchanged by current circumstances,” Ronnie Floyd said.

New York isn’t the only state where officials are trying to apply social distancing rules to churches. In Louisville, Kentucky the mayor prohibited drive-in services, and in Mississippi town Greenville, another mayor also disallowed drive-in services.

In Wilmington, North Carolina, the police department says believers should stick to online services as drive-in services could be “unnecessarily risky.”

Also, in late March, a Florida pastor was arrested for violating the state’s order to ban large gatherings.


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Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla/Staff

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.