John Inazu: “shutdown orders shouldn’t exempt religious gatherings, and those communities should comply”

Confident PluralismJohn Inazu is a professor of law and religion at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference. Here is a taste of his recent piece at The Atlantic: 

What is a church to do in the time of the coronavirus pandemic? For many religious traditions, gathering for worship is not just a friendly suggestion. Some Jewish practices require groups of 10. Muslims consider Friday’s congregational prayer one of their most important. Catholics celebrate the Eucharist together during Mass. As the German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in 1930, “A Christian who stays away from the assembly is a contradiction in terms.”

And yet, for the time being at least, mass gatherings are fueling a public-health crisis, and many state and local authorities are banning gatherings of 50 or more people. Can the government, in a country where freedom of religion and freedom of assembly are sacrosanct, close churches? As a matter of public health, churches should follow these prohibitions. But as a legal matter, must they? The short answer is that in this case, government restrictions extending to churches are almost certainly legal. What’s interesting is why.

Read the rest here.