In a decision released late at night, the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on religious houses of worship in New York which were put in place to help stop the spread of COVID. That decision goes against decisions made previously in the year, when the Supreme Court was not willing to reject the right of each State to use their rightful power to deal with the COVID pandemic. Likewise, it goes against precedent, precedent which recognized the authority of the States, thanks to the Tenth Amendment, to deal with such emergencies as they rise: the States, after all, are not Congress; using their authority to put in temporary restrictions to religious worship was known not to contradict the First Amendment, when it is shown to be fair and justified.
It is amazing that precedent and the original intent of the Constitution could be thrown out – by those claiming to support the “original intent” – during a pandemic so that as, a result, many people will needlessly suffer and die of COVID. Churches and other houses of worship have spread the virus. Coronavirus spikes continue to be seen connected with Sunday services.
Now that the Supreme Court has made its ruling, it is likely more churches will ignore COVID and what they should be doing to limit its spread. How many of those which have been following social distancing requirements will now remove the few protections they have put in place? How can those who claim to be pro-life be so callous? Why are churches, which should be following the example of Christ and working to help preserve life, not undermine it, fighting against necessary restrictions? Indeed, why should they need the government to act and tell them to do what is necessary to protect people? Why do they not do what is right by themselves?
Churches should be giving good examples to the world, examples of how to protect life and the dignity of life. If they want people to respect life, they must respect life themselves. How is it respectful to undermine the safety protocols needed in order to protect life? Churches need to adapt and stop acting like things are normal. Yes, there is a great deal of inconvenience being placed upon them because of COVID, but shall we allow inconvenience as an excuse so that people no longer have to respect life if it makes things inconvenient for them? We cannot be indifferent – we must do what we can, and that means more than not doing direct harm to others; we must, as Pope Francis tells us, look to the heart of the Gospel and see it in a message of self-giving, doing good to others, helping those who are suffering even if it makes things difficult for us:
At times, we think that to be Christian means not to do harm. And not doing harm is good. But not doing good is not good. We must do good, come out of ourselves and look, look at those who are more in need. There is so much hunger, even in the heart of our cities; and many times we enter into that logic of indifference: the poor person is there, and we look the other way. Hold out your hand to the poor person: it is Christ. Some say: “But these priests, these bishops who talk about the poor, the poor… We want them to talk to us about eternal life!”. Look, brother and sister, the poor are at the heart of the Gospel; it is Jesus who taught us to speak to the poor; it is Jesus who came for the poor. Hold out your hand to the poor. You have received many things, and you let your brother, your sister die of hunger?
Pope Francis talks about a malaise, one which was already there, but now made clear in light of the pandemic:
In recent weeks we have reflected together, in the light of the Gospel, on how to heal the world that is suffering from a malaise that has been highlighted and accentuated by the pandemic. The malaise was already there: the pandemic highlighted it more, it accentuated it. We have walked the paths of dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity, paths that are essential to promote human dignity and the common good. And as disciples of Jesus, we have proposed to follow in his steps, opting for the poor, rethinking the use of material goods and taking care of our common home. In the midst of the pandemic that afflicts us, we anchored ourselves to the principles of the social doctrine of the Church, allowing ourselves to be guided by faith, by hope and by charity. Here we found solid help so as to be transformers who dream big, who are not stopped by the meanness that divides and hurts, but who encourage the generation of a new and better world.
This malaise is found within churches as well as in society as a whole. Christians should know better. The Gospel makes it clear how we should treat others. What we do or do not do for others will reflect upon us. Indeed, we will be judged based upon what we do. Trying to fight COVID protections so that churches can be open as if there were no pandemic going on, or as if it were not a real threat, shows us how far Christians have wandered away from the message of Jesus. They do not care about one another; they do not care about others; they only want to go to church. But why? It doesn’t seem to be out of love for God, for if they loved God, they would love their neighbor and protect them; it seems more out of some selfish desire to gain something from God, to put one over God, to force God to do their bidding. For so many it seems as if they think: “If I go to church, you must respect me and my wishes.” They want to go, not to worship God and follow what God wants out of them, but for what they think they can get out of God. Pope Francis understood this, which is why he talked about those who were upset about the expectations placed upon them due to COVID as self-seeking, stuck in their own interests. Thus, they think the risk they force on others, especially the elderly who are going to die soon anyway, is fine. We should not be surprised at this, for many of the same people who want us to believe there is no great concern because they think COVID mostly affects the elderly alone were the very ones who wanted the elderly to die out so that their influence on churches can go away. The way such Christians and society abandons the elderly is itself indicative of the evil which lies in our society:
We have seen what happened with the elderly in certain places in our world as a result of the coronavirus. They did not have to die that way. Yet something similar had long been occurring during heat waves and in other situations: older people found themselves cruelly abandoned. We fail to realize that, by isolating the elderly and leaving them in the care of others without the closeness and concern of family members, we disfigure and impoverish the family itself. We also end up depriving young people of a necessary connection to their roots and a wisdom that the young cannot achieve on their own.
It is true, the elderly are at greater risk due to COVID, but to think they are the only ones at risk is to ignore the reality of COVID. Everyone is at risk, and even if one survives COVID, that does not mean they will ever fully recover and be like they were before catching the virus. We should care about the elderly, and if they were the only ones being affected, we should be doing what we could to protect them. But they are not the only ones. We should be concerned. The virus is spreading. The pandemic is worsening, and it will only get much worse before it gets better. And now SCOTUS has given its protection, not to the people of the United States, but to the virus. Happy Thanksgiving, SCOTUS. Thanks for giving us more COVID for Christmas.
 Since the restrictions are not being put on houses of worship alone, and as COVID can be shown to be spread at large gatherings in houses of worship, the restrictions clearly are justified and are not being used to single out or attack religion.
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