Reason Roundup

Religious Freedom Clashes With Public Health Enforcers

Plus: Signal will leave the U.S. market if EARN IT passes, Justin Amash blasts Michigan shutdown orders, and more...


Attempts to forbid religious gatherings haven't gone so well in some states, where authorities have been taking restrictions on in-person church services too far and congregants have been practicing civil disobedience in response.

Take Greenville, Mississippi. Police there issued $500 fines to people attending church within their own cars because the drive-in service was after the town's curfew.

"During Thursday night service at King James Bible Baptist Church, while parishioners sat in their vehicles listening to Pastor Charles Hamilton, Greenville Police surrounded the church parking lot," reports WREG. Police also issued citations at Temple Baptist Church.

"The police started coming up and we said, 'We think we're within our rights.' So they started issuing tickets, five hundred dollars tickets," Lee Gordon, who attended the Temple Baptist car mass, told WREG. "I don't know, it may have been 20 to 30 tickets. Everybody got one. It wasn't per car. Me and my wife was in a car together and both of us got tickets."

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear announced last week that anyone attending Easter services in-person on Sunday would have to self-quarantine for 14 days thereafter, and that to ensure compliance police would be taking down churchgoers' license plate numbers. (Areas of Kentucky have also been leading the way on requiring people who violate self-quarantine orders to wear GPS ankle monitors to prove they're at home.)

Indiscriminate policies like these church crackdowns fail to take into account the safety mechanisms parishioners may be taking to protect each other from the outbreak. These unnecessarily invasive efforts also turn police into spies on religious members of their community.

"A federal judge on Saturday issued a temporary restraining order, ruling that a Louisville, Kentucky, church can hold a drive-in church Easter service—a ruling that overturned an effort by the city's mayor to stop the service," notes CNN. "The order doesn't involve in-person church services, which are already prohibited by the governor's executive order banning large gatherings."

A spokesperson for U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr tweeted Saturday that Barr "is monitoring govt regulation of religious services" and we can "expect action" from the Department of Justice next week. "While social distancing policies are appropriate during this emergency, they must be applied evenhandedly & not single out religious orgs," said Kerri Kupec.

This lines up with what CNN reports from an unnamed person at the Justice Department:

A Justice official said Barr is examining multiple instances around the country, not just the case of Louisville's, where it appears religious institutions may have been singled out in Covid-19-related public gathering restrictions.

Government can legally limit assemblies, including religious gatherings, to protect health and safety, the official said. But the government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not apply to similar nonreligious activity.

If a municipality imposes fewer or no restrictions on movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls and other comparable places of assembly, it may not order houses of worship to close or limit their congregation size, according to the official.


The encrypted messaging service Signal suggests it will leave the U.S. if the EARN IT Act passes. The bill, sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D–Conn.), takes aim at the free-speech-protecting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and at possibly encrypted communication writ large, under the guise of (what else?) protecting children. "But the law would really create leverage for the government to ask that tech companies undermine their encryption schemes to enable law enforcement access," notes Wired's Lily Hay Newman, who brings us this news about Signal:

Signal developer Joshua Lund said in a blog post on Wednesday that Signal is not cool with that! More specifically, he noted that Signal would face insurmountable financial burdens as a result of the law and would therefore be forced to leave the US market rather than undermine its encryption to stay. Given that Signal is recommended and used across the Department of Defense, Congress, and other parts of the US government, this would be a seemingly problematic outcome for everyone.

Lund wrote in his blog post that "it would not be possible for a small nonprofit like Signal to continue to operate within the United States" if EARN IT becomes law. Read the full post here.


Michigan dictates what stores allowed to stay open can sell. "The new regulations required Home Depot to close its paint section, flooring section and outdoor gardening center by Friday morning," reports Bridge.

[Gov. Gretchen] Whitmer's order also requires large retailers to close carpet or flooring, furniture, garden and plant nursery sections, either by blocking them, placing signs in aisles, posting prominent signs or removing goods from shelves. Bottle return sections at grocery stores must also remain closed. Starting Monday, large retailers cannot advertise products that are not groceries, medical supplies or items necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and basic operation of residences.

On Twitter, Rep. Justin Amash (I–Mich.) said Whitmer's order "goes too far and will erode confidence in her leadership.

"Most Michigan residents recognize the challenging circumstances and are willing to make considerable sacrifices to keep themselves and others safe," wrote Amash. "But several recent measures provide marginal benefits at best, while substantially heightening frustration and resentment." His thread continues here.