Justice Stephen Breyer has turned down Calvary Chapel Bangor’s request to have the Supreme Court preemptively block any new COVID-19 restrictions that the Maine government might place on church services.
The church petitioned the Supreme Court even as concerns about the Delta variant of the coronavirus continue to rise. Many states have already proposed enforcing new mask mandates as the push for vaccinations continues, and many organizations that were deemed “nonessential” during the first lockdown are hoping for a different outcome if another outbreak occurs.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled over the past eight months that under the First Amendment, churches cannot be treated differently than secular establishments, even if the latter has been deemed to be more “essential” by public health experts during a public health emergency.
Calvary Chapel Bangor officials said that Maine’s 14-month-long restrictions were so extreme that the state essentially required the church to choose between “worship and criminal punishment.”
Mathew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which is representing Calvary Chapel, said, “The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled against these unconstitutional worship bans at least 10 times despite Gov. Janet Mills threatening to enact her Draconian restrictions again. We are asking the High Court to prevent Gov. Janet Mills from reimposing her unconstitutional restrictions once and for all.”
Assistant Pastor Travis Carey said that the shutdown of churches during COVID violated freedom of religion and other constitutional rights.
“We are protected by the Constitution to gather under the First Amendment and so people are making that stand,” Carey said.
Churches must continue to fight for religious liberty—even if they are threatened or mocked. Although Cavalry Chapel Bangor lost this effort to ward off any potential COVID restrictions, the church’s proactive appeal, if nothing else, has put governors and other executives on notice that churches won’t be nearly passive this time around.
Churches saw the cost — and the rewards — of standing up for their rights last year, particularly in California when Gov. Gavin Newsom declared that church was “nonessential,” and effectively shut down in-person church services for the vast majority of his constituents.
Many churches accepted this command, but a few did not even in the face of threats and imposition of massive fines. Their righteous battle eventually paid off with big Supreme Court decisions in favor of religious liberty. However, the fight within the culture and in the courts will continue, and that means that pastors and churches must practice civil disobedience when man’s law directly conflicts with God’s law.
An example of civil disobedience was Crossroads Community Church’s Senior Pastor Jim Clark, who simply refused to obey Newsom’s ban on singing and chanting during worship services despite threats of fines or other state action. “We will be singing and praising the Lord,” he stated. “We don’t chant, but if we did chant, we’d be chanting too.”
Labeling churches as nonessential and preventing them from being able to gather together and worship is a dangerous precedent. One of the beauties of living in America, and the reason the Pilgrims came to America in the first place, is the right to freely worship God as one sees fit without any interference from the government.
Preventing Christians from being able to go to church, sing in church, or have fellowship and community with fellow believers is chipping away at the very foundation the Church was established on — and prevents the Church from doing what it should do best, which is reaching and witnessing to a culture that is hungry and in desperate need of Christ.
With these challenges in mind, let us remember the warning God gave in 1 Peter 5:8-9: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.”