Ken Graves, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Bangor, Maine, is calling on believers to fast and pray ahead of the church’s Supreme Court case on May 13. Graves hopes that the Court will make a final ruling on the constitutionality of church restrictions during emergencies.
In a video on the Calvary Chapel Magazine website, Graves cites the importance of the Supreme Court defending the constitutional right to worship.
“The Supreme Court is going to ‘decide to decide.’ So in other words, they are going to go one way or the other. Either they will do as they have been doing, and they will simply order the lower court to reverse their decision. Certainly that’s a win for us — essentially denying our governor the ability to shut down churches or to restrict our God-given, constitutionally guaranteed right to religious freedom as well as our right to peaceful assembly. But what we’re hoping for is a different outcome. We’re hoping and praying that the Lord will move upon the Supreme Court of the United States to actually rule on the merits of these government lockdowns, thus settling the issue for the whole nation.”
Graves warned that if the government maintains the “presumed right” to shut down churches for emergencies then there is no end to the justifications they could use to restrict worship.
The Maine restrictions limit churches to just 50 attendees, and violators are subject to fines and jail time. “We have been forced to choose between worship and criminal punishment,” Graves said. “In a country born on the desire to be free and with the right to worship fundamentally enshrined in our First Amendment, forcing such a Hobson’s choice is unconscionable and frightening.”
What makes the restrictions truly baffling is that the church’s residential addiction recovery program is permitted to meet for substance abuse counseling without restriction, as long as the attendees do not worship or read the Bible. The 50-person cap makes it impossible for Calvary Chapel to open services to the regular congregation because the 48 addiction recovery students are required to attend services. This also hinders the students because they are denied the opportunity to worship and fellowship with those outside the program.
The bias is evident not only through the inconsistency of the addiction recovery program but in the fact that various businesses including liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries were deemed “essential.”
According to Matt Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which represents Calvary Chapel, “The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled against these unconstitutional worship bans, and Governor Janet Mills has continued her draconian restrictions against churches and places of worship. The High Court now must end Governor Mills’ unconstitutional actions once and for all.”
Graves agreed, saying,
“It is the language chosen by our governor’s order that reveals the Christian church is, in fact, being targeted and discriminated against. Our state government has told the Church that it is nonessential. I disagree in the strongest terms. We are among the most essential things that must remain open. Wiser governments in the past actually looked to the churches to gather and pray and to pool their resources in times of crises. The government has told the Church that it is irrelevant and that it offers nothing. I reject that. We are not irrelevant, and we have more to offer than our governor apparently realizes.”
The Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down biased restrictions on churches. After the Supreme Court ruled against California restrictions for the fifth time, it offered a reprimand to the Ninth Circuit:
“This is the fifth time the Court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious exercise … It is unsurprising that such litigants are entitled to relief. California’s Blueprint System contains myriad exceptions and accommodations for comparable activities, thus requiring the application of strict scrutiny. And historically, strict scrutiny requires the State to further ‘interests of the highest order’ by means ‘narrowly tailored in pursuit of those interests.’”
One can understand why the Supreme Court appears to be frustrated by having to routinely rule on the same issue. The best way to prevent that is to make a final ruling themselves. These restrictions are wrong, particularly considering they are not generally applied as the Court instructs. The only way to stop governors from trampling on Americans’ religious freedom is for the Supreme Court to proclaim — once and for all — that these restrictions on religious worship are unconstitutional.
Religious freedom is the most pivotal of our rights and intrinsic to America. Many of the first European settlers risked their lives to escape religious persecution in Europe and live in a new land where they would be free to worship. Less than 300 years after the Declaration of Independence, that promise of freedom has been denied. It is time we return to the founder’s vision of freedom.
As George Washington, the greatest American and a staunch advocate of religious freedom, once said,
“If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.”
The Supreme Court now has an opportunity to establish barriers against tyranny. Let us all pray diligently over the next week that our esteemed justices will make the most of that opportunity and set us free once again to worship together.