House conservatives raise alarm over growing restrictions on religious gatherings

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As governors and local officials get carried away with handing down edicts to restrict churchgoing and other forms of free assembly amid the coronavirus scare, some elected representatives in Washington are starting to push back hard.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) even sent a letter to President Trump, Vice President Pence and Attorney General William Barr. In it the lawmakers said they understand the reason behind “social distancing” as a recommendation, but that people should not be barred from gathering to worship.

If social distancing is practiced, they said, church is not any riskier than individuals going to what has been deemed an essential business.

“We write to you out of great concern for the right to religious freedom enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, governors and local leaders around the country have issued orders of varying restrictions on their communities to slow the spread of the virus,” the letter said. 

“Calling on individuals to have greater awareness of their environments, keep reasonable distance from others, and strive to maintain better hygiene may all be warranted as we continue to confront the many unknowns of this virus. Prohibitions on worship have no place in these restrictions.”

The lawmakers voiced concern that some precautions are threatening First Amendment rights.

“Members of many faiths are called upon to gather in community to worship. The First Amendment protects their right to do so. Sadly, many leaders around the country have taken this pandemic as an opportunity to deem worship gatherings non-essential,” they wrote.

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“In fact, recent reports indicate the Governor of Kentucky will be tracking the license plates of any individuals attending Easter services and subsequently forcing them to quarantine for fourteen days. There is no place for this behavior in America.”

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