Supreme Court Allows Churches to Kill Worshippers

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Well, as expected, our garbage government confirmed a garbage person to replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and she’s a woman so you know, liberals should be happy.

A quick note on this that baffles me: when Amy Coney Barrett was being questioned, I saw conservatives posting things like that, literally: she’s a WOMAN isn’t that what you WANTED?? And the complete lack of critical thought is truly astonishing — conservatives accuse progressives of only caring about identity, which we (generally) do not, or at least should not. Like, Joe Biden announced that a whole bunch of women are going to be part of his administration and for the most part the response from progressives is “thanks, I hate them.” So then conservatives nominate a woman expressly because they hope that her gender will blind us so we won’t notice she’s awful, doing the exact thing they accuse progressives of doing, and then crying because we aren’t falling for it and conforming to the stereotypes that they assigned to us. Amazing. It would be like if I write a New York Times thinkpiece accusing my dog of hating cheese and then acting shocked when I leave a plate of brie on the floor and disaster strikes.

Anyway, the Supreme Court is now officially a conservative majority, and they’re already flexing their muscle. There have been several bad decisions, but today I want to talk about one that will actually result in people dying: the Supreme Court has ruled that the state of New York cannot tell houses of worship to limit their services while a pandemic is tearing through the country.

So first of all, this ruling does not immediately affect anyone it’s supposedly about. The church and synagogue that brought the case to the Supreme Court are no longer under any restrictions because they were lifted once the number of cases in those areas dropped. And of course, the cases dropped because of the limitations on gatherings. Now things are not looking so great for the near future, so as officials in New York and across the country attempt to enact science-based recommendations to limit the spread of the virus, they’re going to look at this lawsuit and wonder, “Are we actually allowed to do this?”

The reason that the conservative Supreme Court justices all voted this way was, according to their majority opinion, that houses of worship were “singled out” for particularly harsh restrictions while other businesses like bike shops and acupuncture clinics were considered “essential” and allowed to remain open to however many customers they wanted.

Another brief sidenote: are churches admitting they’re “businesses” like bike shops and acupuncture clinics and if so, should they be paying taxes like those companies? Hmm, makes you think.

Anyway, the court has determined that religious institutions were unfairly discriminated against. But is that true? You can’t really compare a church to a bike shop — no one goes inside a bike shop and hangs out for an hour or more with dozens or hundreds of other people, all of whom are speaking and/or singing at each other. That is what matters here. Not whether or not a church is “essential” or not…even if you consider that a business is “essential” you still need to adjust it so that you limit the spread of the virus in that place. The American Medical Association told the court that the virus spreads most easily in places that are inside, with poor air circulation, with a large number of people staying for an extended period of time and are speaking, shouting, or singing. As I mentioned two weeks ago in a study that showed religious services are one of the worst places for COVID spread, literally all of that describes a church, and only one or two of those describe a bike shop. (Which, if you’re curious, is an essential business because bicycles are the primary mode of transportation for many people, especially in cities and especially when those cities shut down or limit their public transportation due to, say, a pandemic.)

A doctor’s office is another essential business that can include many of those problematic aspects, which is why most medical establishments have changed the way they operated to keep people safe — my doctor’s office set up their flu vaccine clinic outside, took reservations to limit the number of people who would be there at the same time, required everyone to wear masks at all times, and marked off the sidewalk so everyone stayed six feet apart. Because that’s what you do when you care about your customers, or patients, or parishioners, and don’t want them to catch or spread a deadly disease — you change the way you operate. You don’t sue everyone in order to keep doing the same thing you’ve always done.

You could also compare churches to schools, which New York didn’t just restrict but fully closed for at-home instruction at the end of August. The only thing that churches could complain about is that that order only applied to public schools. New York allowed private schools to continue in-person classes without restriction. Of course, the answer to that isn’t to allow churches to do the same, but it is to also shut down private schools. We should follow the science in all these situations and it’s frankly ridiculous that private schools have been allowed to do as they please. Like, I accept that the data is still uncertain about how easily children can spread the disease to adults and how well it spreads in schools that take precautionary measures (though new evidence suggests an absolute shit ton of kids are infected and don’t know it) but if it’s good for the public schools it’s good for the private schools. Just sayin’.

So yeah, this Supreme Court decision doesn’t stop the government from discriminating against churches — it does the opposite, forcing the government to give churches rights that other businesses (except private schools) don’t have: the right to spread a pandemic in the way that scientists overwhelmingly believe the virus spreads most easily.

Asking churches to adjust the way they worship, like by limiting the number of people in attendance, social distancing, not letting people SING COVID IN EACH OTHER’S FACES FOR HOURS AT A TIME, you know, whatever, is not discrimination. In fact, lawyer Max Kennerly points out on Twitter that the United States has a long history of not allowing religious institutions to practice their religion when it violates the social contract. He cites “Roberts, in an opinion joined by Thomas, Kennedy, Alito, and Gorsuch” who writes that they ruled Native Americans can’t ingest peyote for religious purposes as it violates Oregon’s drug laws, among many other similar decisions. Hell, Mormons can’t marry more than one person, which is why the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints broke off from the main branch — the majority of Mormons changed the way they practiced their religion in order to conform to the laws of the United States. Your first amendment right to practice your religion isn’t a free pass to do whatever the hell you want. If it was, living in the US would be like living The Purge every day. I mean, not that it isn’t kind of like that already.

I’ll end by speaking about this as a Christian. I mean, a cultural Christian and a former god-botherer. I grew up Baptist and I was really into it, and I remember at one point our church got a new pastor and there was some disagreement that broke the congregation apart. We had to move to a new building, and the local Seventh Day Adventists let us use their place on Sundays (since they worshipped on Saturdays, it was a nice mutually beneficial relationship). I remember our (new) pastor saying that a church isn’t a building — it’s people. It doesn’t matter where you are, or even if you’re in the same place together. In fact, if you are Christian or live in a Christian culture you’re probably familiar with the Lord’s prayer, which starts “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” That comes from Matthew Chapter 6 in which Christians are instructed exactly how God expects them to pray, and the verse preceding the Lord’s prayer they are told, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Like all religions, Christianity has some good stuff in it! But like all religions, unfortunately, a large number of adherents don’t really pay attention to the good stuff. So we end up with a “church” like the Agudath Synagogue (with a total revenue of about $12 million) and the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which has about $40 million in assets (but sadly needs to pay about $17 million per year to the victims who have been sexually abused by their priests), who have decided to sue to keep their houses open during a pandemic rather than let their adherents go into their rooms, close their doors, and pray to their Father, who is unseen. I tell you the truth: they have received their reward in full.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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