But long before Trump ordered churches reopened — and long after how this battle plays out politically — some ministers and congregations have and will likely continue to defy state mandates. Because for many of them, the reasons go beyond partisan politics.
For the most part, American mosques and temples have not wrestled with the question of whether to hold services or not.
But for many Christian churches, the issue goes straight to what they view as their constitutional right to free exercise of religion.
If restaurants and shopping malls are allowed to reopen under certain safety protocols, the argument goes, then churches should be too.
“You can’t discriminate against religious gatherings compared to secular gatherings,” said Mat Staver, chairman of the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel. “Churches can incorporate into their worship service the social distancing and the hygiene as good or, frankly in my experience, even better than some of the nonreligious venues.”
Staver said state orders that still prohibit churches from resuming in-person services go against their “First Amendment right to exist.”
“There is no pause button on the First Amendment,” he said.
Staver said that restrictions on houses of worship were too broad and amounted to a “one-size-fits-all template.”
People in faith communities need churches more than ever during this moment, he said, and churches should be able to decide for themselves how best to serve their communities without government intervention.
For some, physical gatherings are a key part of the faith
In many Christian denominations, assembling physically for worship is critical to the faith.
Many houses of worship initially adapted to the pandemic by holding virtual or drive-through services. But for the faithful, nothing can replicate the act of physically coming together at the end of the week.
“For Christianity in general, assembling on Sunday is a most ancient tradition,” said Bruce Morrill, a Roman Catholic priest and a professor of theological studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School. “It’s at the very origins of Christianity, and it remains important for this day.”
Then there are the rituals, sacraments and traditions that bind parishioners to one another.
“The anxiousness of so many parishes to restart and regather has to do with the belief in the mystical presence of Christ in the assembled community, and especially in the bread and wine shared in the Eucharist, or the Holy Communion rite,” Morrill said about…