More Thoughts on Church Closings

On the possible risks of contagion, and why Evangelicals sue.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

At the Law & Liberty site, I have an essay on constitutional challenges to state and local bans on religious gatherings. (Eugene has covered these cases here and here). My essay addresses some of the legal issues: whether bans are "generally applicable" under Employment Division v Smith, how courts might weigh the burden on religion against the state's interest in curbing the epidemic, whether less-restrictive means are available, etc. I'd like to follow up here with a couple of additional comments, first, about church services and contagion, and second, about the sort of churches bringing these lawsuits.

First, on the risk of contagion, some evidence now suggests that churches are more like theaters, concert halls, and lecture rooms than grocery stores. Contagion is a function of viral load and time exposed: the longer people are together in an enclosed space, the more likely it is that they will receive a high-enough concentration of the virus to be infected and for the disease to spread. The risk also increases when people sing together, as in a choir. Many church services last an hour or two and involve lots of congregational singing, which could mean a much higher risk of exposure than simply walking through a supermarket.

This point hasn't appeared prominently in court decisions so far. For example, in this past weekend's Sixth Circuit opinion striking down the Kentucky ban on church services, the panel dealt with the point only obliquely. "It's not as if law firm office meetings and gatherings at airport terminals"—which remained legal under the Kentucky ban—"always take less time than worship services," the judges explained, and it would always be possible to limit the number of people attending. That's true, but there may be something about church services, like concerts and lectures, that make them more apt to be sources of viral spread than other gatherings, something that approximates a qualitative difference, when it comes to contagion. And if that's true, it would explain why church services, like movie screenings and concerts and lectures, aren't in the same category as grocery shopping, and, consequently, why the government could curtail the former while allowing the latter. We'll have to see what courts make of this argument, once they fully address it.

Second, about the churches bringing these lawsuits. As I explain in the Law & Liberty essay, so far, all the plaintiffs are Christian, and virtually all of them appear to be Evangelicals. The only example of which I'm aware in which a non-Evangelical church has challenged the constitutionality of one of these orders involves a schismatic (or "irregular") Catholic parish in New Jersey. Although some prominent lay Catholic voices have expressed skepticism about the bans, the Catholic Church hierarchy in this country has so far complied, as have the various Orthodox jurisdictions.

Now this is a puzzle, because in Christian terms (I can't speak to other traditions), Evangelical worship is non-liturgical. It emphasizes the teaching of Scripture, not the sacraments. The main point of Evangelical worship is for people to gather to hear the Gospel truly preached. As a result, Evangelical services can be adapted to the online idiom fairly easily. Something important is lost, of course: the fellowship of other believers. But the faithful can listen to a powerful sermon over the internet, at home.

The main point of Catholic and Orthodox Christian worship, by contrast, is the distribution of Holy Communion, which Catholics and Orthodox faithful hold to be the real Body and Blood of Christ. One cannot distribute Communion online. I know I'm painting with a broad brush and that everything is comparative. I don't mean that preaching is unimportant to Catholics and Orthodox, or that corporate worship is unimportant to Evangelicals. But, in liturgical terms, Catholic and Orthodox churches should be the ones complaining about state-ordered closings, since the closings impinge on their worship much more. Yet they have not. What explains this?

The difference may have more to do with attitudes towards authority than the theology of worship. First, Evangelical churches lack a hierarchical structure. As the heirs of the free-church tradition, they typically are independent congregations that can decide for themselves how to respond to government action. Catholic and Orthodox parishes, by contrast, answer to bishops who can discipline priests and congregations when they go astray—and, so far, the hierarchies have been willing to comply with government orders to curtail services, though that may not continue indefinitely.

Second, Evangelical Christians generally may be more suspicious of state action than are Christians in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, which have a history of greater interconnectedness with state authority. Finally, there may well be a political component. White Evangelicals overwhelmingly support President Trump, and Trump supporters generally express more suspicion of the public health authorities just now.

To be sure, the number of lawsuits, so far, is very small. Most Evangelical Christians in America have complied with the bans on worship services, just like most Catholic and Orthodox Christians—and just like most non-Christians. And non-Evangelicals may file lawsuits in the future. But the overrepresentation of Evangelicals as plaintiffs at this point is striking, and I doubt it's just a coincidence.

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  1. I mean, this is just not accurate. You’re painting evangelicalism with a much too broad stroke. Many evangelical churches administer sacraments, such as the Lutheran Church of the Missouri Synod, which administers communion every week or every 2nd and 4th Sunday depending on local parish decisions.

    In addition, many evangelical denominations are also liturgical. I have attended five Lutheran churches long-term in the last 6 years as a young person moving about, including my father’s church. Each followed a liturgy; sometimes as strict as a Catholic liturgy (introits, kyrie, hymns of praise, confessions of sin, absolution, Nicene creed, invocations, benedictions, scripture intros, words of institution, etc etc), some less strict (confession of sin, Nicene creed, benediction/invocation, words of institution). Some have decided to remain open, like my father’s, some have closed, like my current church in DC. But the ones that have stayed open have done so in defiance of guidance from the LCMS President and council, which asked churches to close. And when you ask those churches for their reasons for their decisions, they cite different scriptures. You’re forgetting scriptural justifications for this decision. There are also local culture/local government factors to be taken into consideration when trying to figure out why some churches close and others stay open.

    While it is true that many evangelical congregations are less hierarchical, and thus congregations have more freedom to speak out according to their local conscience, the liturgical and sacramental arguments are not accurate. I have also been studying churches’ responses to the pandemic, specifically focusing on if they have closed or stayed open and their reasons for doing so. One interesting point I have found so far is that many Jewish synagogues have been particularly adamant about staying open. I have also found several different Catholic parishes across America that have remained open.

    1. Since when have Lutherans, or Catholic Lite, ever been classified as “evangelical?”

      1. In college I took a class on the history of the Reformation. The professor was an expert in Church history and herself active in her Lutheran church. She explained that we need to remember that the mainline Protestant churches are all evangelical because of the doctrines of justification through faith alone as contained in the gospels which are the only source of authority for these churches (sola scriptura) makes them “evangelical.” The term has taken on a different meaning in the U.S. social/cultural/political context, but as a matter of doctrine mainline protestants are evangelical.

      2. Since when have Lutherans, or Catholic Lite, ever been classified as “evangelical?”

        Classified? By whom?

        Any church can be “evangelical”, it refers to spreading the word. You might be confusing it with fundamentalist, not the same thing.

        See Evangelical Catholic wikipedia article.

      3. Fair points…I was using the connotation of the word evangelical, not the literal and/or theological meaning of evangelical.

      4. In German, “evangelical” is actually a synonym for “Lutheran” (as opposed to “reformed,” which is a synonym for “Calvinist”).

      5. I grew up in the Lutheran church, Missouri synod. The name the church gave itself was St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. So Lutherans see themselves as Evangelicals and named this church so, at least in the sense of what Jesus told them to do, evangelize to others. Are they Evangelicals in the political sense? I think that depends on the synod. I have attended three in my lifetime. Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Synod, and ALC\LCA synod (some call Grace Lutheran).

  2. Authority is obviously the reason. If the Pope had announced “we are resisting these orders”, Catholics would be flooding the Courts with claims. Instead the Vatican said “comply”.

    Evangelicals lack someone with that authority. Which means there is nobody to stop individual congregations from doing something stupid.

    1. I think you overestimate the respect most lay Catholics have for this particular Pope, and how much they have paid attention to his directives thus far. But your point about authority echoes the OP, in that the bishops have supported civil authorities in this matter.

      1. I think the priests and bishops that run congregations are HIGHLY deferential of papal authority on matters like this. (They might dissent on doctrine, but this isn’t doctrine.)

    2. “Authority is obviously the reason”

      Wouldn’t “standing” be a relevant issue in a lawsuit?

  3. (Slightly) off-topic, I noticed this week that the Dutch constitution allows for proportionate interference with the freedom of religion as it does with other religions, but not “in buildings and enclosed places”. Likewise, the state of emergency – which hasn’t been proclaimed yet – allows further interference with the freedom of religion, but again not “in buildings and enclosed spaces”.

    This would have raised some interesting questions, but for the fact that Dutch lawyers tend to skip right over the constitutional definition of rights and go straight to the European Convention on Human Rights.

  4. Not only is the Catholic church hierarchical, it has protocols already in place for events like this, so it’s not like we’re talking an ad hoc decision.

    1. Wasn’t there also an actual outbreak traced to a specific things done at a specific Catholic Mass? (Things like having a shared chalice.)

      Should we be surprised that Protestants have responded “but we don’t do that” (and we don’t — we have individual cups). At least in Massachusetts, the Catholic Church shut itself down, on its own initiative, several weeks before Governor Tall Deval shut all the other churches down by fiat.

      1. My church has a regular flu season protocol, where sharing the wine is eliminated, and only the host is distributed, and people are instructed to just wave or nod to each other, not shake hands. We went to that some time in January, IIRC.

        In person Mass resumes this week.

        1. FYI: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/two-catholic-priests-in-boston-area-die-after-coronavirus-infection/ar-BB13hAO2

          We also put the host in our own mouths, unlike the Catholic practice, and memory is that the Priest touching it was a concern.

          1. Actually, Catholics practice in that regard is variable, depending on circumstances. Mostly the Priest places it in your hand, and you transfer it to your mouth, but he’ll place it directly in your mouth if your hands are occupied with an infant or whatever.

      2. Deval Patrick has not been the Governor of Massachusetts since 2015. The Governor of Massachusetts is Charlie Baker (R).

        1. Yes, he knows that. “Tall Deval” is Baker.

  5. The main motivator, it would seem to me, is the “cultural warrior” mindset of the religious right. In the spirit of the Westboro baptist church, they view this once Christian nation being consumed by the evil secular forces of the modern world. It it up to true believes to defend the nation against such liberal evils such as abortion, SSM, and over-regulation. The US government is complicit in the moral destruction of America when advancing liberal policies instead of conservative policies. Therefore, it is incumbent upon evangelicals to resist the power of a government which resists the will of God.

    1. This is basically the reality in which we live…

    2. Perhaps they lack confidence in arbitrary and capricious edicts from those who celebrate abortion & gay marriage. Perhaps they suspect that such people might not have their best interests at heart.

      I can’t possibly imagine why, though…..

    3. ” In the spirit of the Westboro baptist church”

      “spirit” JFC. Those freaks are not followed by anyone.

    4. “In the spirit of the Westboro baptist church”

      Evangelical churches denounce America and rejoice in the deaths of American soldiers?

      1. The only difference is that Evangelicals believe the nation has a righteous core that must be fraught for, while the Westboro baptist church believes the nation is beyond redemption and is entirely evil.

        1. “only difference”

          Ignorant or bigoted statement? Maybe both.

          1. Ok, that was probably a nasty comparison. However, there is a comparison to be made with both seeing themselves as defending their faith against a immoral and oppressive government. But I should have made it clear they are on opposite extremes, with respect to their offensive tactics.

          2. I would say that the primary difference between Westboro and other evangelicals is that Westboro actually takes the text seriously. The text really does say what they claim it does; they’re not making it up. (Of course the text is completely ridiculous, but that’s a different discussion.)

            Modern revisionism notwithstanding, the Bible compares homosexuals to dogs and says they will not inherit the Kingdom of God. It says God gave them up, and God gave them over, to receive in their own bodies judgment for their abominable practices. It says they are worthy of death.

            Taking those passages as meaning what they say, you can accuse Westboro of a great many things, but you cannot accuse them of being wrong on the text. Their problem is that they actually believe and put into practice what the text says.

            1. “I would say that the primary difference between Westboro and other evangelicals is that Westboro actually takes the text seriously.”

              The text which calls for picketing soldiers’ funerals?

              1. “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord has not done it?” Amos 3:6.

                Granted, that’s not explicitly a command to picket dead soldiers’ funerals. It is a fairly clear statement that that soldier is dead because God killed him, and it’s not that much of a reach to say that God might want people to be reminded of that fact. So again, whatever other faults Westboro may have, not being faithful to the teachings of Scripture is not one of them.

                1. I’m not really seeing it…

                  1. What’s not clear?

                    1. Where the Bible wants the WBC people to picket American soldiers’ funerals. To say the least, it’s not a self-evident interpretation, and it’s possible for evangelicals to disagree with it without being “OMG hypocrites who don’t take the Bible seriously!!!”

                    2. The text that says they’re supposed to picket soldiers’ funerals is found right next to the text that says to have church picnics, Vacation Bible School, and paid church staff. Seriously, you’re arguing that unless the words “picket soldiers’ funerals” appear in that order, in quotation marks, that it’s unbiblical? You don’t get the concept of applying general principles to specific situations?

                      There are multiple instances of Old Testament prophets mocking the suffering of Israel that God had sent because of Israel’s sins. Westboro is merely doing the same.

                      And even if the discussion switches to whether it’s a good tactic, a point on which reasonable minds may differ (depending on the desired outcome of the tactic), it’s not an unbiblical or anti-biblical tactic. Go back and read some of the things Elijah said to King Ahab; they’re not that far removed from some of the things Westboro puts on its picket signs. So the “OMG they’re hypocrites” comes from other Christians being appalled that Westboro is following biblical precedent in its methodology. Which is not the same thing as arguing that everyone else ought to use the same methodology; but don’t criticize them for using one for which there is biblical precedent.

                    3. I’m not sure you’ve supported your earlier claim that the WBC “actually believe and put into practice what the text says.”

                    4. As far as them actually believing it, I’m not a mind reader; I don’t know for 100% certainty that they’re not con artists. But I would bet against it.

                      As far as what they publicly do and espouse being in harmony with the text, the Bible absolutely does say every nasty thing about homosexuals that Westboro claims. One of the kings of Israel comes in for special praise for having “put away the sodomites from out of the land.” The prophets of ancient Israel really did mock the suffering of Israel when God sent it as judgment for Israel’s evil ways. I certainly don’t see Westboro doing anything that even arguably is in conflict with Scripture.

                      So go ahead and continue to be unsure. But be honest and ask yourself how much of that uncertainty stems from what you want the answer to be.

                      By the way, a philosopher with whom I normally vigorously disagree on just about everything else made the interesting point that unbelievers are more to be trusted with the interpretation of Scripture than believers are, because unbelievers aren’t stuck with the results. If the Bible says something foolish or outlandish or that produces awful results, it’s no skin off my nose because I don’t believe it anyway. For someone who does believe it, interpreting the text more often than not turns into a game of avoiding the results of what it very clearly says.

                    5. Which prophet ever mocked the suffering of Israel when God sent it as judgment for Israel’s evil ways? Please cite some examples, because I don’t recall any. The prophets warned in advance that suffering was going to come if the people didn’t mend their ways, but when it came they commiserated, while pointing out the reason why it happened and how to ensure it won’t happen again.

                      No different than a parent who warns that if you do dangerous things you’ll get hurt, and then when you do get hurt comforts and cares for you, while making sure you understand what you need to do to stay safe in the future.

                    6. One of the kings of Israel comes in for special praise for having “put away the sodomites from out of the land.”

                      Sorry, קדשים means male prostitutes (or, according to Onkelos, men who sleep with their female slaves), not “sodomites”.

                      (Incidentally, the idea that Sodom’s sin was homosexuality was unknown in the prophets’ time, so they certainly wouldn’t have used that word. All the prophets understood Sodom’s sin to have been hostility to strangers. In Jewish law the term Midat Sedom, which literally means “the trait of Sodom”, or “sodomy”, has nothing to do with sex; it means refusing to let someone take advantage of you when it costs you absolutely nothing. E.g. not letting someone take a shortcut through an empty lot you own.)

                    7. “a philosopher with whom I normally vigorously disagree on just about everything else made the interesting point that unbelievers are more to be trusted with the interpretation of Scripture than believers are, because unbelievers aren’t stuck with the results.”

                      Curiously enough, I haven’t found that to be the case.

                      “unbelievers” are even more prone than evangelical Protestants to focus on single “proof-texts” as explaining the whole of Scripture and to ignore the broader context. Maybe you’ve associated with a better class of “unbelievers”?

                2. And if they were preaching that this terrible thing has happened to us because we have strayed from God’s law, and that the way to avoid such losses in the future is to return to that law, that would be one thing. We would still question whether the soldiers’ funerals were the right occasions for such sermons, however loving and compassionate, but that might be a matter for legitimate debate.

                  But they’re not doing that. They’re not mourning the soldiers, they’re celebrating their deaths, and claiming that the soldiers deserved to die, rather than that they were the innocent victims of our collective sin. That’s not Christianity, it’s hatred, and its hatred for its own sake. Their purpose is to pour out their venom and to hurt people, not to persuade them to improve their ways.

                  1. Milhouse, you should read some of the things the Old Testament prophets said to Israel and its kings. I don’t think King Ahab would have considered the prophet Elijah to be loving and compassioniate.

                    1. Examples, please. Everything I recall is exactly that.

                    2. I am in the middle of a work related rush, so I only have time to find one for you. I also won’t have time to be back today so you’ll probably get the last word. See you next thread.

                      Proverbs 1
                      24 Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;
                      25 But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof:
                      26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;
                      27 When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.
                      28 Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:
                      29 For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD:
                      30 They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.
                      31 Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.

                      That sounds a lot like the preaching of Westboro Baptist. A lot.

                    3. Not even close. Proverbs is not a book of prophecy, it’s a lecture on proper behavior. The passage you quote is Wisdom speaking to fools, warning them of what will happen if they ignore it. It’s every parent trying to get through to her children; it’s the Girl with Indigo Hair lecturing Pinocchio. No mockery here, no taunting, just facts.

                      Of course after the fact a parent comforts and consoles the child who has ignored her advice, but the speaker here is not an actual person, it’s a figurative personification of an abstract trait. Wisdom is a different trait from compassion.

            2. The irony is that in order to arrive as a morally and socially defensible belief system in these relatively enlightened times, one must do a *massive* amount of emphasis-shifting, motivated interpretation, and downright discarding if one must begin with what the Bible actually says.
              One must then deny having done so, lest one be stuck with explaining where the moral wisdom guiding this massive cleanup process came from (since it was obviously not the Bible).
              I know there are sane, thinking adults not raised in the faith who can take such matters seriously and ostensibly manage the contortions necessary to sustain such a set of beliefs. In practice every such person I’ve encountered seems to outsource the horniest questions to someone else (who doesn’t resolve them).

              1. Ahem. Thorniest:-)

        2. Other than that, they’re entirely the same.

          /sarc

    5. Or, you know, it could be a good faith disagreement about the proper response to the crisis and how important the church is in society.

      But that’s crazy. All this is obviously about ssm.

  6. Liberals around here will feign surprise and ignorance, but the fact is these types of Christians face discrimination on a daily basis and are used to having to fight back. The secular left has been actively attacking them for at least the last 20 years and these Christians know that they won’t stop until their religion is essentially outlawed.

    If you doubt this just look at the flippant comments made about religious people by Kirkland and other like him. Not only do these people have a deep seated hatred for Christians they think it is their superior moral/ethical obligation to ban them from society. And the media enables them to seek out this agenda.

    1. You can say the Church is under attack because of a comment you don’t like on the internet, but ask yourself, would the Church be under attack today if abortion and SSM were illegal in all 50 states?

      1. “…would the Church be under attack today if abortion and SSM were illegal in all 50 states?”

        Both once were and the church wasn’t under attack back then….

    2. the fact is these types of Christians face discrimination on a daily basis

      Being told you can’t force your beliefs on other people isn’t discrimination. And as a country where 75% of the country identifies as Christian – its amusing when members of that 75% whine about being discriminated against.

      1. Just wait and see when 75% of the population is being feed to the lions.

      2. So if you can’t force your beliefs on people, why do liberals get to do it every single day (usually with the taxpayer funded it?)

        1. It sort of depends on the harm worked by imposing the belief and the moral basis for the belief. Beliefs based simply on religious doctrine often lack a strong moral basis because they are more like threats: do this or go to hell. But even if that was an important consideration, there is too much divergence in opinion on what religious doctrine requires to make it a society wide standard. Inevitably, some people will live in a world where their beliefs are not the societal standard and will feel disenfranchised. Moral beliefs based on pure utilitarianism are also weak because they often lead to some people suffering great harms so that a different but larger group of people will suffer minimal harm or merely be happier than they otherwise would be.

          Take same sex marriage. The two main reasons given against it are either religious or utilitarian. The religious argument doesn’t really work in a pluralist society, and again is a sort of extortion because it depends on pleasing God rather than caring about how people are treated. The utilitarian argument, that society functions better without same sex marriage, is also weak because it essentially asks some people to give up something great: their ability to marry, so that other people (no longer that great in number) feel more comfortable about society as a whole.

          If conservatives force their beliefs on everyone about it, gay people can’t express their loving commitment to their partners through the act of marriage, and have legal stumbling blocks to their creation of a family. This is a serious harm to them and an affront to their dignity as people.

          If liberals force their beliefs on everyone, their dignity as people is affirmed and the only result is that people like you merely have to live in a world where that is the case. Someone else being treated well is not a harm. Or even it is, its not a harm that is greater than the one imposed by banning same sex marriage.

          TL:DR: the beliefs that dominate society need to have a strong moral basis, some conservative beliefs lack that basis while some liberal beliefs have it.

          1. The TL:DR of your TL:DR – Moral relativism.

            That said, I appreciate the respectful dialogue.

            1. Thanks, for the compliment. But I don’t think I’m relativistic. I think there are core universal principles that exist. I just don’t think religion or utilitarian approaches offer them. Or more accurately for the latter, I don’t think utilitarianism is a theory that should govern all cases although it might be the right answer for particular problems based on the facts. (Is that relativistic? Maybe it is, but maybe there are universal principles that govern when utilitarianism is appropriate?) I’d say Rawls is the person whose moral framework I have the most affinity for.

              1. I like Rawls approach (paraphrasing) that we should design a society not knowing what role we will play in it. The fundamental flaw in it, though, is that we are not all equal and never will be, not to mention that there are different types of inequality.

                While religion can state objective moral precepts in order to make the foundations of an ethical system for building a society, it can’t prove them. Correct. However, neither can science or any other approach for that matter, which has a worse track record when it comes to societal outcomes when such an approach has been tried.

                I’d say a Burkean approach is the one I have the most affinity for, to mimic your conclusion.

            2. mad_kalak, I’m pretty sure I don’t share your theological views, but that does not make me a moral relativism. I suspect I’m closer to a moral absolutist than you are. I simply disagree with you about the nature of morality.

          2. So it is OK to jam a belief down someone’s throat if it is a liberal “affirming dignity” but say not if it is a religious person “saving their soul”?

            1. Yeah kind of. I mean for one thing, each person typically has an obligation to their God independent of what everyone else is doing. So the fact that someone feels uncomfortable in a society the consider degenerate doesn’t relieve them of their obligations. So there is really no strong moral basis for denying human dignity in this life when your obligations don’t actually change.

              You can’t force a relationship with God. Societies which have tried to enforce it typically did so by devaluing the lives of people in their societies. It’s not a moral way to act.

              1. You can’t force a relationship with any God, including the God of Social Justice.

                Respectfully, that’s what you missed in your answer.

                1. Social justice isn’t a god, it’s a way of treating people. And while you ultimately can’t force people to treat others well, there are a few things society can do.

                  One, it can decide as a principle that it will try to guarantee as best as possible respect for each human regardless of their innate characteristics.

                  Two, it can use a combination of appeals to our better nature, social shame, and light coercion (within acceptable moral bounds!) to nudge people to behave better towards others.

                  1. In other words, the only way “social justice” differs from a god is that it doesn’t even claim to objectively exist and have objectively determinable wishes. It’s just some people’s whim, which they want to impose on everyone else.

                    Yes, a society that is all agreed on “social justice” can use penalties of various kinds to force people into compliance with its dictates — exactly in the same way that a society that is all agreed on a religious principle (such as, for no other reason than the fact that it’s already been brought up mixed-sex marriage) can use the same methods to enforce that. If you think it should be prevented from doing so, then how do you not apply the same thing to your own, equally subjective tenets?

                    1. Milhouse, can we agree that even though it’s not always clear and beyond dispute what is, and is not, social justice, there are at least some things that are clearly on one side or the other of that line? For example, slavery and Nazi death camps are no-nos, and working to eradicate racial prejudice is a good thing?

                      If so, then you agree that line exists; your quibble is with where to draw it.

                      I will partially agree with you that sometimes it’s subjective, but not all the time. So maybe working toward a workable definitition of the term would be better than tossing it altogether.

                  2. “Social justice isn’t a god, it’s a way of treating people.”

                    Social “justice” isn’t justice, either; Justice is inherently individual, not social, because it is dependent on individual merits and life history. This person gets convicted, that person doesn’t, because this person actually did the deed, and that person didn’t. This person is owed recompense because they are the person who was wronged, that person owes recompense because they’re the person who committed the wrong.

                    Justice is never a group thing, and so never “social”.

                    1. The Third Reich wasn’t a group thing? Conversely, ending Jim Crow wasn’t a group thing? Sorry, but the idea that nations cannot collectively act justly or unjustly strikes me as absurd.

                    2. Well that’s completely wrong. I mean how did the convicted person come to be punished? It’s not a priori. Collective decision making for collective well being made that happen. Society made that happen.

                    3. Committing injustices or justice in a lot of individual cases still doesn’t make justice or injustice “social”, Krycheck_2. Jim Crow wronged a lot of people, but every one of those people was an individual.

                      The basic problem with “social justice” is that it lets the desire to get the overall picture right overwhelm the commitment to do justice in each individual case. You might say that it paints a portrait of justice by assembling many individual injustices so that they look like justice from a great distance.

          3. “depends on pleasing God rather than caring about how people are treated”

            That’s very interesting. The dispute nowadays is whether business owners who quietly and respectfully cater only opposite-sex weddings should be subject to crippling fines. Does it matter how these people are treated, or is their treatment OK because they’re not being compassionate like Jesus would have been in the same situation?

            1. Would you *really* want someone who hates you preparing food for you and your loved ones? REALLY???

              This is what I don’t understand about Gay & Lesbian couples — they really aren’t that stupid, are they?

              1. Dr. Ed, I am one-half of a gay couple, and if a baker doesn’t want to bake me a cake, I’m just as happy to buy one somewhere else. (Actually I prefer to make my own, and you should taste my peanut butter cake with chocolate frosting.) But that’s not the point.
                The point is that my money should spend just as well as your money.

                1. I’d think the point is that the owners shouldn’t be fined simply for acting on views which until recently were not only uncontroversial, they were uncontroverted.

                  Of course, it’s precisely because of the radical nature of the changes we’re expected to accept that dissent has to be suppressed so vigorously. Society has to be made over so that what was once accepted is now unthinkable and vice versa.

                  1. Eddy, that’s a really dangerous position for you to take. Up until recently, the idea that blacks are equal to whites was completely unthinkable in many places. The purveyors of Jim Crow were also adhering to beliefs that until fairly recently were not just uncontroversial, but uncontroverted.

                    Ditto emancipation for women. Ditto freedom from religious persecution. And ditto for anti-Semitism; in much of Europe for much of the Middle Ages, Hitler’s views would have been uncontroversial. Among many Eastern Europeans they still are.

                    But every now and then, humanity has an epiphany and realizes that yes, we have have been doing it wrong. The fact that the epiphany was a long time in coming is not a reason to stand in the way.

                    1. I suppose a Hitler analogy was inevitable.

                      Of course, per my point, there was controversy over Hitler from the beginning, likewise over slavery and Jim Crow.

                      Suppose some Jim Crow supporter, or some Nazi back in the day, had said, “if your ideas of racial equality prevail, then you’ll get men marrying men, etc.” then the assumption would have been that they were lying and trying to discredit their opponents.

                    2. There was controversy in the sense that nothing is ever believed 100 percent; there are always contrarians. But racism , misogyny and anti Semitism were the dominant social views to at least the same extent as homophobia.

                    3. “there are always contrarians”

                      So who were the “contrarians” who supported same-sex marriage before, say, Stonewall?

                      (And Stonewall was about opposing police abuse, not about redefining marriage; that stuff came later)

                    4. The early gay rights organizations in the 1940s and 50s were asking for gay marriage. No one took it seriously in those days but the demand was there.

                      But you seem not to get the concept of applying general principles to specific issues. If your bottom line demand is for gay equality, how does that not include marriage?

                    5. So perhaps the demands go back a couple decades before Stonewall. Even if so, it’s not a really a long time, civilizationally speaking.

                    6. And how long, civilizationally speaking, have demands for racial equality been taken seriously?

                    7. “Ditto emancipation for women.”

                      That’s widely misunderstood — it was one vote per FAMILY, cast by the father, who also paid the poll tax. Most young *men* couldn’t vote until they owned real estate, merely being 21 wasn’t enough.

                    8. Sigh. Poll taxes have nothing to do with voting. A poll tax is nothing more or less than a flat-rate tax levied per person. So it would have to be paid for each member of the family, and had no connection to the right to vote.

                      The only reason people make an association between them is the historical accident that at a certain time in the post-civil-war South it became a common practice to condition voting on having paid ones poll tax, but to waive that condition for poor white people, if they could be trusted to vote the right way. This was just an excuse to keep black people (and the wrong white people) from voting. It could just as easily have been any tax, but it had to be one that black people were liable to pay, so it couldn’t be an income tax or property tax or anything that poor people were exempt from.

                    9. “And how long, civilizationally speaking, have demands for racial equality been taken seriously?”

                      I’m sorry to say you’ve subtly shifted the question – you seem to be aware that what you call “demands for racial equality” have lasted longer than demands for same-sex marriage, so you change the issue to how those demands have been met.

                      Indeed, the abolitionist critique of slavery was by your standards highly retrograde, sexist and heteronormative, since the abolitionists spoke of how slavery harmed the manhood of male slaves, broke up families, and threatened the marriage bond and the chastity of women.

                2. The baker (and all the similarly situated businesspeople who’ve been sued under similar laws) are all happy to take your money and provide you with their services — so long as the service you ask of them doesn’t violate their consciences. None of them discriminate against gay customers; but they refuse to participate in what they regard as an immoral event.

                  To someone who regards a same-sex marriage as inherently wrong, a crime against God, knowingly providing goods or services for one is exactly the same as knowingly providing the get-away car for a bank robbery. That’s why they object, not because they have something against the participants themselves.

                  I used to provide certain services for weddings. While I was unlikely ever to get any such requests, I would have been happy to provide my services for a marriage between two gentiles; but I would have refused my services for any marriage in which one partner was Jewish and the other not.

                  I would also have refused my services for a same-sex marriage, but not for a commitment ceremony, anniversary party, or any similar event that did not use the words “marriage” or “wedding”. It’s the term I object to, not the substance of the event. I hope that doesn’t offend you, but I can’t help it if it does.

                  1. Milhouse, here’s the reason the word “marriage” is important. Being consigned to the back of the bus is not that much of an inconvenience; the back of the bus gets to destination at roughly the same time as the front of the bus. But that’s not the point. The point is to tell the people consigned to the back of the bus that they’re not as good as the people who are allowed to sit at the front of the bus. Yah, a civil union or a domestic partnership will give gay couples roughly the same rights as marriage, but it will also tell them that their relationships aren’t as significant and deserving of protection as those of straight couples.

                    And, if you believe my marriage is not as valid or deserving of protection as yours, then that’s really just another iteration of “I’m better than you because (race)(sex)(religion)(sexual orientation).” And it deserves the same response. No, you’re not better than I am because you prefer sex partners with an indentation rather than a projection. Or because your religion came from Mount Sinai rather than Mount Calvary.

                    And I don’t really see a distinction between your refusal to participate in a mixed-religious wedding and someone else’s refusal to participate in a mixed race wedding. It’s the same principle: Our bloodline/religion cannot be tainted by allowing mixed marriage. Since I’ve been quoting the Bible a lot in this thread, I’ll tell you that you, too, are on solid textual ground; you may recall that when Israel came back from Babylon and was rebuilding the wall, all Jews who had married non-Jews were required to divorce them. But the fact that prejudice has a textual basis makes it no less prejudice. At the end of the day, you either believe that “all men are created equal” or you do not.

                    1. What makes the front half of a bus better than the back, but the back seat of a car better than the front? It seems pretty arbitrary to me. However much one objects to the arbitrary and capricious concept of making people sit separately according to skin color in the first place, which part of the bus is designated for which set of people seems to me a trivial matter. Segregation would be no less objected to had the front of the bus been designated for black people, or had the bus been divided lengthwise, whether black people were put on the right side or the left.

                      I object to intermarriage between a Jew and a gentile not because of any notion of who is better than whom, but simply because God forbade it, which in my mind makes it just as wrong as stealing, or as assaulting someone, and certainly worse than merely hurting someone’s feelings. Had God not forbidden it I would have no objection to it at all. Forcing me to participate in such a crime, by providing my services for it, is exactly the same as forcing me to eat a ham sandwich, or to mug an old lady. And for those who object more strongly than I do to same-sex marriage it’s the same; it’s not a reflection on your worth or your partner’s, but a conviction that your act of purporting to marry each other is morally wrong, and while they can’t stop you it’s wrong for the state to force them to participate.

                      My own objection to same-sex marriage is a bit less than that. I have no objection to same-sex relationships as such, and would gladly participate in celebrating one, but it isn’t a marriage. It’s not about you, it’s about the definition of the institution. To me, marriage is not just a relationship, it’s a different kind of relationship, one that is inherently more valuable than any other, one that was defined by God, and that by definition requires a mixed-sex couple. The “mixed-sex” part is just as important as the “couple” part; just as a relationship between three people may be wonderful but it can’t be a marriage, so too a relationship between two people of the same sex. Each of you may be as worthy as anyone else or even more worthy, and your relationship may be wonderful and valuable and worth celebrating, and each of you is certainly capable of marrying someone of the opposite sex, should you want to. But you are no more capable of marrying each other than you are of being pregnant (if you are male) or of flying (if you are human — on the internet nobody knows if you’re a bird). I understand that you don’t agree, and I can’t stop you from erroneously calling your relationship a marriage, but I refuse to participate in that misnaming.

                      Here’s a f’rinstance that cuts two ways: Many people mightily object to what they call “misgendering”, i.e. calling someone the wrong sex. Two people may fiercely disagree on what a given person’s sex is, one insisting that it’s whatever that person was born as and the other insisting that it’s whatever the person now says it is, but both agree that it is whatever it is, and that it’s morally wrong to say it’s the opposite. Now why is that? Why do they care what you call that person? And yet they get very worked up about it. Because they have a strong sense that things are what they are, and are not something else. A cat isn’t a dog and a dog isn’t a cat. And even those who take the side of the argument that holds a person can change sexes simply by declaring it to be so, insist that having been so declared, and so long as it hasn’t been superseded by any opposite declaration, it is now a fixed fact and all must acknowledge it.

                      Me, I’m less dogmatic about it; I think a person’s true sex is determined by their current anatomy, and is changeable by surgery, but I think it’s only polite to call people whatever they want to be called, whether it’s true or not. It’s rude to contradict people to their faces over something as unimportant as that. Also, without seeing a person naked I don’t know for a fact what sex they are, so I should take their word for it. But I don’t agree that whatever they’ve asked me to call them is true, if in fact it is not.

                      And I feel the same way about same-sex “marriage”; if asked to participate in one I will politely decline, but I won’t let that affect how I relate to the partners afterwards. Whatever the nature of their relationship, it deserves to be respected, and certainly they deserve the same courtesy and respect as anyone else. So I’ll only give my opinion that “marriage” is the wrong name for their relationship if I’m asked for it, or if that is the topic of discussion. Otherwise what they call it is none of my business.

                      Did that make any sense?

                    2. @Milhouse
                      May.14.2020 at 11:15 pm

                      “To me, marriage is not just a relationship, it’s a different kind of relationship, one that is inherently more valuable than any other, one that was defined by God, and that by definition requires a mixed-sex couple.”

                      Assuming you are Jewish, marriage predates your religion by roughly half a millennium in the Middle East. Of course, you could assert that regardless of that apparent problem, your god still defined marriage for the Sumerians who didn’t believe in him…

                    3. Milhouse, here is the bottom line difference between us on this issue: You think that beliefs and conduct that would otherwise be acknowledged to be bigoted are justified because of your religious beliefs. I don’t. If someone is putting blacks on the back of the bus, I don’t much care if their motivation is that they believe the Bible teaches racial segregation, or if they believe in eugenics, or something else. They are still engaging in bigoted behavior.

                      Not all bigoted behavior calls for state action. I think you should be free to not participate in any wedding that you choose not to participate in. But I don’t think “my religion says so” excuses otherwise bad conduct.

                      To use an extreme example, which I already used before, the 9/11 hijackers were practicing their religion and doing what they believed God wanted them to do. They are still mass murderers.

                    4. Assuming you are Jewish, marriage predates your religion by roughly half a millennium in the Middle East. Of course, you could assert that regardless of that apparent problem, your god still defined marriage for the Sumerians who didn’t believe in him…

                      He defined it to Adam and to Noah. That’s where the Sumerians got it.

                    5. Jihadist murderers, like the Thugs and the Aztecs, are not bad because of their beliefs, they’re bad because of their actions, the violent crimes their beliefs induce them to commit. Those crimes must of course not be tolerated no matter what induced them. (Sure, they believe that the gods want them to do this, which is why from their point of view they’re right; but we don’t accept that view, and can’t afford to tolerate it.) There can be no comparison between that and anything we’re discussing.

                      No Christians or Jews, and not even most Moslems, believe that they ought to engage in violence against others. The most they believe is that they should use the political system to advocate legislation that would conform with their beliefs, which is their right; those who disagree with them can use the same system to oppose such legislation.

                    6. @Milhouse
                      May.15.2020 at 11:15 am

                      “He defined it [marriage] to Adam and to Noah. That’s where the Sumerians got it.”

                      That is an unexpected response. Are you a Biblical literalist, possibly even a Young Earth Creationist? If so, perhaps we should simply agree to disagree on the relevant sub-threads here and part peaceably, as it is unlikely for the two of us to come to any form of agreement on these topics.

                      Have a great weekend. (that’s genuine, not sarcasm)

                    7. Surely it is a very mainstream view that the Bible doesn’t lie, and so events that it reports as ordinary fact must have actually happened. That would not seem to be related to how one interprets the Creation narrative; whatever one thinks happened to start the world, the Biblical Hebrew language is obviously not up to the task of describing it literally — probably every human language is — so even so-called “literalists” have no choice but to add a ton of interpretation to it. “Literalists” simply insist that however involved ones interpretation, it must remain faithful to the text; each word must be explained in some way and not just ignored. No such consideration applies to passages that seem completely capable of being understood literally, and that give no indication of being meant otherwise.

                3. ” (Actually I prefer to make my own, and you should taste my peanut butter cake with chocolate frosting.)”

                  But should you be required to write “God Hates Fags” on it, just because someone with money wants you to?

                  Likewise, should your peanut butter cake be banned because some people have peanut allergies? (NB: Not label it as containing peanuts, which I think is reasonable.)

                  Should a Kosher deli be required to sell pork sausages?

              2. No, you probably don’t want somebody forced to prepare food for you. But you might very well want somebody who would have to be forced to prepare food for you ruined, if you were that sort of person.

                You look at some of these public accommodation cases, and the plaintiffs actually went looking for somebody who wouldn’t want to serve them. Because they weren’t shopping for a cake or flowers.

                They were shopping for a lawsuit.

          4. Beliefs based simply on religious doctrine often lack a strong moral basis […] The religious argument doesn’t really work in a pluralist society, and again is a sort of extortion because it depends on pleasing God rather than caring about how people are treated. […] the beliefs that dominate society need to have a strong moral basis, some conservative beliefs lack that basis while some liberal beliefs have it.

            And there lies precisely the problem. You have stated your moral principle, and have no problem imposing it on the whole country, when a substantial proportion, perhaps a majority, do not agree with it. Your assertion that your beliefs have a strong moral basis, while ours do not, seems to us as smug as you seem to regard our contrary assertion.

            You take it for granted that it is obviously moral to judge everything by “how people are treated”, and by whether people’s “dignity as people is affirmed”. We take it equally for granted that the only moral principle, the only correct criterion for judging whether any act is right or wrong, is whether it pleases God.

            This is not “extortion”, it’s not a matter of going to Hell; we want to do the right thing because it is the right thing, not because of the consequences if we don’t. But to us the right thing is whatever please God.

            Most of the time that happens to be the same as whatever doesn’t harm others, because almost all religions teach that God, in most cases, wants us not to harm each other. But most religions also teach that there are exceptional cases where God wants us to harm people (or where doing what He wants inevitably harms them), and in those cases harming them is the right thing and not harming them is the wrong thing. And this view of ours surely deserves at least as much deference as your view that whatever harms people is inherently wrong. (“At least”, because our view at least claims to have an objective standard — God’s will, whereas yours doesn’t even claim anything more than your subjective distaste for harming people.)

            1. God’s will isn’t really an objective standard though. To the extent it is revealed to humans, it is often contradictory and opaque. For the purposes of societal wide rules it’s just as subjective. Also: just because God created the universe doesn’t mean that he automatically acts in a moral way; the Old Testament is filled with the acts of an immoral God.

              1. Religious people differ on exactly what God wants, but there’s a lot of overlap, mostly because a lot of religious people (the vast majority in this country) base their views on an objective standard — they’re not just guessing, they’re reading His own statement on what He wants, and differ only in how they interpret those parts that can be read different ways.

                And yes, defining morality does mean He automatically acts in a moral way, because morality is defined as whatever He wants. By definition He cannot be immoral, any more than US law can be illegal, or than the US constitution can be unconstitutional.

                1. So when God killed Job’s family to prove a point to Satan that was a moral behavior?

                  1. Yes, by definition. As Job acknowledged.

                    1. Well that’s not a God worthy of worship and not a strong endorsement that his moral principles should be followed by humans.

                    2. That is your religious opinion, and it’s an extreme minority opinion. The bulk of Americans, regardless of which religion they subscribe to, agree that God (however they understand Him) is by definition worthy of worship, and also by definition whatever He does is morally right, and there is no moral principle against which we can judge Him. That was certainly the view of all this country’s founders.

                      You have essentially made your social justice views into your personal god, and use them as the moral standard by which you judge other people’s gods; well, we do the same to yours. Except that you don’t even purport that your god actually exists, and has actually told people what he wants; your god is simply a feeling you have.

                    3. Ask people if it’s okay to kill people to settle a bet. What do you think they’ll say?

                    4. People are not the arbiters of what is right. God is.

                    5. @Milhouse
                      May.14.2020 at 6:23 pm

                      “The bulk of Americans, regardless of which religion they subscribe to, agree that God (however they understand Him) is by definition worthy of worship, and also by definition whatever He does is morally right, and there is no moral principle against which we can judge Him. That was certainly the view of _all_ this country’s founders.”

                      That second sentence of what I excerpted is demonstrably inaccurate. Many founders were Christians. However, a handful of the founders were Deists, Paine for example, who tended to view the natural world as having been “set in motion” by an otherwise disinterested god. Many others were sort of a mix of both, with differences across the spectrum. Some of those “Deistic Christians” were hardly distinguishable from their fellow Christians, but a few were barely Christian at all in their beliefs, Franklin for example, though he warmed up to the idea of divine intervention in his later years.

                    6. Paine was not one of the founders, and his religious views were one of the reasons the founders disdained him, and explain why Washington let him rot in a French prison.

                      Washington’s circle, except Patrick Henry, were basically unitarians in their beliefs, though only Adams was officially one. They believed in a God Who is aware of everything we do, hears and answers prayers, controls our destiny, punishes sin and rewards virtue, and has at least in some form made His wishes understood to us. They drew the line at the trinity, and at believing every word of the Bible came directly from that God.

                    7. For a later example, consider Lincoln’s statement that we should not pray that God be on our side but that we be on His. He recognized that whichever side God is on is by definition the right side, and hoped that was the side he had chosen. If he had somehow come to believe that God was on the other side, he would have changed his opinions and gone over to it.

                    8. @Milhouse
                      May.15.2020 at 11:30 am

                      “Paine was not one of the founders…”

                      Balderdash. Paine was certainly late to the festivities, but his written works preceded him. His “Common Sense”, written after he arrived in the colonies, was instrumental in bringing about the revolution. He helped to secure funding for the war from the French. He is clearly one of the founders, and is recognized as such by any historian with an IQ above room temperature.

                      Even if what you wrote were true (and it is not even arguable that it isn’t), Paine was merely one example out of a handful of Deists influential in the founding, the one with perhaps the most recognizable name. The entire focus of my original response to you was your assertion that _all_ of the founders were Christians, which remains unsupported by your subsequent post. Finally, I would say that it cannot be supported by well-established historical facts.

                      “…and his religious views were one of the reasons the founders disdained him, and explain why Washington let him rot in a French prison.”

                      This is not relevant to the false assertion that _all_ the founders were Christians, nor is your 2nd paragraph (I offered no argument against most of the founders holding some flavor of Christian beliefs).

                      FWIW, Monroe got him sprung just under a year later. Moreover, it was chiefly Paine’s ardent abolitionism and fervent support of the French revolution that made him unpopular, though his Deism obviously didn’t help.

                      @Milhouse
                      May.15.2020 at 11:32 am

                      “For a later example, consider Lincoln’s statement…”

                      As it turns out, unlike Paine, Lincoln actually wasn’t a founder. So, it is inconsistent to dismiss Paine based on your (obviously incorrect) assertion that he wasn’t a founder, while lauding a Lincoln quote because it happens to accord with your beliefs. Regardless, this Lincoln quote is also not relevant to the false assertion that _all_ the founders were Christians. However, it is both ironic and droll that you chose a Lincoln quote. Lincoln admired Paine, and in his youth had penned a defense of Paine’s Deism. How awkward for you…

            2. “You have stated your moral principle, and have no problem imposing it on the whole country, when a substantial proportion, perhaps a majority, do not agree with it”

              Exactly, except that I go one step further and argue that the “moral principal” *is* a de-facto religious belief and should be considered as such.

              1. Ed, social justice is not a religious belief. It is a political belief.

                Religious beliefs are theological. Social justice is not theological. It is a an assertion completely unrelated to God, and founded instead on a utilitarian speculation—that when society acts collectively, the actions work best if they treat every member of society alike.

                Of course, critics of social justice reasoning are apt to feel they are not treated alike, but instead singled out for social criticism, or even for compulsion. Where that founders, pretty often, is that the critics are not being treated differently than anyone else in society. They just disagree with what most members of society expect, and what they want reinforced by collective social action. That even-handed preference for acting alike goes unnoticed by like-thinking advocates, but falls disproportionately on social dissenters.

                What commonly comes of that experience is that social justice critics assert individualism as a social value—a value of their own, which they advocate society as a whole should support alike for everyone. They basically say, “If social justice is action alike for everyone, then what about us individualists? Aren’t we entitled to that, too?”

                Many folks struggle with that, because it seems paradoxical. The logic of viewing individualism that way unavoidably results in a critique of collective action itself. Particularizing the individualist case suddenly delivers abolition of the utilitarian one.

                If you want a doctrinaire approach, perhaps you can believe in individualism, but not social justice, or vice versa. Practical people muddle along, by trying not to be doctrinaire. They pick and choose among cases, trying to decide in which cases individualism is more socially advantageous, and in which cases social justice works better. The confusions that creates tend to go unmarked, but they have their effects anyway.

                One problem is, demands made by religious orthodoxy rule out that aforementioned picking-and-choosing practicality. For many a religionist, when God is telling you what to do, you don’t get any choices. Even the question of of choices for non-religionists becomes fraught—is the religionist who indulges others in choices contrary to God’s will actually doing God’s will himself?

                To put one final confusing twist on it, it sometimes happens that an individualistic religious interpretation of social justice comes to coincide with a non-religious utilitarian assessment. Such cases might include more-recent interpretations of John Brown, which have lately brought his religiously-inspired abomination of slavery into accord with utilitarian consensus on the same topic. When that happens, everyone gets to feel good together, but at the cost of reinforcing an abiding confusion about where social justice comes from, and the differences between a utilitarian approach, and a religious one.

      3. Funny thing is when the topic of Christians facing discrimination comes up the liberal deny it to heaven’s end. But if you were to say the same thing about “hate crimes” the same liberal will pull out an anecdotal evidence and say that they are persistent throughout society.

        1. Good point. Almost all instances of blatant anti-religious discrimination are anecdotal and local, rather than systematic — just like hate crimes. And many such instances turn out on further examination to be hoaxes or otherwise misrepresented — again, just like hate crimes. But nobody disputes that genuine hate crimes do exist, and are a significant problem; the dispute is only over how prevalent they are, and thus how significant the problem is. Yet many secular people insist that anti-religious or specifically anti-Xian discrimination is so rare as not to be a significant problem at all.

        2. Jimmy, I didn’t deny it. I asked if you could give a specific example of what you are talking about, and then I gave a specific example of what I don’t consider anti-Christian discrimination. So far, you’ve chosen not to favor us with any examples.

      4. I see your statement and raise the counterpoint of Chick-Fil-A. The CEO gave an honest answer to an interview question about homosexuality. They donated some money to religious organizations, and as a result, they have been accused of being a hate group, including outright bans and even unconstitutional writs of attainder. Despite the fact that there is not one credible accusation of discrimination of any form against them.

        It might be an outlier, but it’s a very prominent case that every practicing Christian knows about, and it’s so egregious that the one example will be used to justify fears of persecution for decades to come.

        1. Unconstitutional writs of attainder?

        2. Ben:
          They admitted to donating money to a group that was trying to get the death penalty for homosexuals in Uganda.

          1. So? That makes them a hate group?!

            1. Well, if they had given money to a group that was trying to get Christians, or Jews, or anyone else executed, would there be any doubt in your mind?

              1. There is a difference between being a homosexual and in engaging in specific sexual acts. One specific act that is known to spread AIDS, which is still pandemic in Africa.

                Wasn’t Roy Cohn quite homophobic?

            2. I mean it’s hard to explain supporting the killing of homosexuals without using the word hate…

              1. As I understand it, they donated money to a legitimate religious organization in Uganda, that engages in general religious work, and also, within Uganda’s political system, engages in advocacy for bringing the country’s laws into closer accord with what Christianity says they should be. Political advocacy isn’t hate. And Christianity isn’t hate, or if it is then the concept is meaningless and there’s nothing wrong with it. Christianity doesn’t hate people, but it has particular views on what the laws should be. In the USA we have a constitutional restriction on how closely the law can comply with that agenda, but there’s no reason Uganda has to have the same restriction.

                You can’t just announce as a syllogism that hatred is offensive, Christianity is hatred, therefore anyone who advocates Christianity is outside the pale of civil society. It doesn’t work that way. We live in what is mostly a Christian society, and if it comes to either Christians or anti-Christians being expelled from it, it won’t and shouldn’t be the Christians. So you can’t denounce someone simply for being a Christian, for believing in whatever Christianity says, or for donating to a cause that advocates, not those specific aspects of Christianity that you don’t like but the whole package.

                It’s different if we’re talking about a group that makes it its mission specifically to change those laws and no others, and not because it believes in Christianity but because it just so happens that Christian law on the subject matches its own prejudices and bigotry. It’s also different if we’re talking about a group that, rather than merely engaging in political advocacy, preaches hatred of certain people. In that case, hatred is by definition hatred, and the objects of that hatred are certainly entitled to object.

                The Phelps cult, for instance, is hateful and despicable, and I think anyone who donates money to it should be informed of what it stands for and asked to reconsider in that light. The Phelpses aren’t about religion, they’re about hatred, and the religion is an excuse they’ve found; they’ve no use for any other part of it, and they reject the part that specifically says not to hate anyone. (But I suspect the whole group is a long-running false flag operation, and is funded by those who find its existence politically convenient. Certainly someone is funding it, because it’s hard to see what else its members live on. Provoking people into assaulting them, and then suing them, doesn’t seem like it could be lucrative enough. And they go out of their way to be as offensive, to as many people, as they could possibly be, which suggests that it’s their goal to offend everyone.)

                1. “And Christianity isn’t hate, or if it is then the concept is meaningless and there’s nothing wrong with it. Christianity doesn’t hate people, but it has particular views on what the laws should be.”

                  First, I think none of those who have responded in this sub-thread have asserted anything close to even implying that Christianity itself is hate or that Christianity hates people. Also, labeling people as anti-Christians (in your 2nd paragraph) is not helpful, and those who argue for a secular government should not be assumed to be anti-Christian.

                  “In the USA we have a constitutional restriction on how closely the law can comply with that agenda, but there’s no reason Uganda has to have the same restriction.”

                  Just to have all of our cards on the table here, if there were no such Constitutional restriction in the US, would you be in favor of criminal prosecution of homosexual behavior with penalties to include the possibility of execution? I’ll show my cards first: I certainly would be very much opposed to any such law.

                  You can praise all the good things the Ugandan group does and perhaps many of us here would agree with most of that praise, but if they’re supporting the death penalty for homosexual behavior between consenting adults, then they are quite clearly a hate group. That is not to say that Christianity is a hate group, but rather that a specific Ugandan organization is a hate group.

                  1. Venerable, if the US didn’t have a first amendment I would be advocating that we adopt one PDQ! The first was adopted in the first place because most people had passionate religious views which were irreconcilable with each other, and England had recently been through over a century of religious conflict because each faction wanted the state to adopt their version. The founders saw that the only way to resolve this was to have the state remain strictly neutral. (There was also the fact that in the south the established church had been loyalist while in the north it had mostly supported the rebels, so the southerners were hostile to established churches while the northerners supported them. That’s why the northern states kept them for quite a while after.)

                    So long as one did not exist I would advocate that there be laws against those sexual acts that the Bible forbids, but would not advocate any serious penalties; only in a society that was willing to officially become a religious state with the Bible as its law, which of necessity would mean that almost everyone in it believed in those laws and was willing to obey them voluntarily, would I advocate legislating the Biblical penalties.

                    But my point is that this Ugandan group, at least as far as I know, is simply saying what Christianity says; so if it’s a hate group then of necessity all of Christianity is one too. And in our society that just cannot be. We are mostly a Christian society, so it’s not an acceptable position that Christianity be seen as unacceptable, and that people who donate to completely orthodox Christian causes in other countries be demonized merely because the recipients also engage in political advocacy that wouldn’t go over well in this country.

                    1. King’s Chapel in Boston was — and is — Anglican.

                      What you’re overlooking is Cromwell — after his death, Massachusetts lost its charter for having been loyal to him.
                      So a century later, there were multiple competing religions — often referenced to by the names of the ministers.

                    2. “Venerable, if the US didn’t have a first amendment I would be advocating that we adopt one PDQ!”

                      Well, on this at least, I’m happy that we can agree.

                      “So long as one did not exist I would advocate that there be laws against those sexual acts that the Bible forbids, but would not advocate any serious penalties…”

                      That would be much milder than the Ugandan situation, but I cannot support any such punishments. My general view is that governments _must_ be secular, as in Jefferson’s wall of separation. To be clear, that is not to say that governments should be anti-religion – that is not my view at all, and I don’t equate that with secular government.

                      “…only in a society that was willing to officially become a religious state with the Bible as its law, which of necessity would mean that almost everyone in it believed in those laws and was willing to obey them voluntarily, would I advocate legislating the Biblical penalties.”

                      Human societies are messy, and religious beliefs are not immune. There are many flavors of Christianity (no doubt you’re aware of this, but it’s necessary to state for context), even just within the US, and they don’t all agree with each other, mostly on minor points, but sometimes significantly. Some of them welcome non-heterosexual couples and fully support SSM all the way to performing the ceremonies. Of course, most do not. This whole situation isn’t a problem under a secular government, but it would become real trouble under a theocracy.

                      “But my point is that this Ugandan group, at least as far as I know, is simply saying what Christianity says; so if it’s a hate group then of necessity all of Christianity is one too.”

                      No, your conclusion does not follow. I hope we can agree that Christianity is not homogeneous, unless you want to make the case that, for example, Catholics and Pentecostals have no differences. If we agree on that, it should naturally follow that one Christian sub-group holding some beliefs which the other sub-groups and external observers find appalling is possible, but that such a sub-group’s identity (as a hate group, or as something else) does not impose itself on the whole. The labeling of the Ugandan group as a hate group does not make Christianity a hate group any more than designating Daesh a terrorist group would somehow make Islam a terrorist group.

                      Consider whether the Westboro Baptist Church is a hate group. I would say they are; perhaps you would, too, or perhaps not. Either way, I bet we can agree that they do not represent the totality of Christianity. If so, then it shouldn’t be hard to see that there are labels we can legitimately apply to WBC that would not apply to Christianity in general. One of those labels might be “inciteful”. Another might be “hateful”. I would say neither of those apply broadly to Christianity.

                    3. Of course not all Christians agree on everything, otherwise there wouldn’t be different churches, and the first amendment would never have been proposed in the first place. Nor would the English colonization of America have happened in the way that it did, and 21st-century North America would have been a very different kind of place than it is.

                      As I wrote earlier but perhaps not clearly enough, the only kind of society that can contemplate adopting the Bible as its constitution is one where essentially everyone agrees on it, and agrees enough on how to interpret it to make such a thing workable. In such a society these laws wouldn’t need enforcing, because nobody would want to break them. We are very far from such a state, which is why the first amendment is so necessary for us.

                      But there are things that are so central to Xianity that it seems impossible to call anyone who disagrees Xian. Unless you think one can become a Xian simply by saying so, as some people think one can become a man or a woman simply by saying so. And it seems to me that recognizing the Bible’s authority is one of those things. The differences that exist in how that authority is to be applied and interpreted don’t change the core fact that it has authority, that it’s the ultimate Truth, and what it says has to be taken seriously. So it seems to me that if that is all this Uganda group (of which I know nothing) is saying, then delegitimizing it is the same as delegitimizing all of Xianity, which cannot be accepted. I think the most one can say of such a group is simply that one strongly disagrees with that part of its program, and for that reason chooses not to donate to it, but one can’t go beyond that to demonize anyone who does donate to it, unless one knows for a fact that the donations are motivated by that part of its agenda with which one so strongly disagrees.

                2. So, suppose there is a charity that does lots of good work. It feeds the poor, heals the sick and does lots of other things that are socially beneficial. But, it’s also run by Nazis and it lobbies for Jews to be sent to camps. Would you say it’s a hate group? Or would you be fine with people donating to it because it does good works?

                  As my late grandmother would say, one drop of manure will spoil all the butter.

                  1. For this to be relevant, they would have to be advocating that not because they hated Jews but because they subscribed to some religion that believed what they were advocating was commanded by God and was therefore the moral thing to do. And I would say that such a religion, like those of the Thugs, the Aztecs, and the Jihadists, can’t be tolerated and can’t be treated as we do the religions that dominate in our society, and for which the first amendment was written. If such a religion came to predominate in this country it would be time to leave.

    3. Daily basis?

    4. Jimmy, this is an honest question: Can you please give us some examples of the discrimination Christians face on a daily basis? Because when I’ve asked this question of other Christians in the past, what I’ve usually gotten is examples of Christians not being given special treatment that is more favorable than what everyone else gets. Which tells me that at least the ones I’ve spoken to seem to have a massive sense of entitlement. Maybe you can provide us with examples of genuine mistreatment.

      For example: There is a Sixth Circuit case in which a high school teacher assigned her students to write an essay on something they didn’t know anything about. The topic had to be cleared in advance, and the point of the essay was to learn about something new. One of her students, a Christian, decided to write about Jesus. The teacher said that since, as a Christian, the student already knew about Jesus, that didn’t conform to the purpose of the assignment. A Muslim wanting to write about Jesus would be fine, and a Christian wanting to write about Buddha would be fine, because in those cases, the students would be learning about something new. But a Christian writing about Jesus would defeat the purpose of the assignment.

      So, the student wrote a paper about Jesus anyway, got an F, and sued. (And lost.) And had press conferences about what horrible anti-Christian discrimination this was. Even though you don’t have to be Arthur Kirkland to see that this is not anti-Christian discrimination; this is a case of a Christian with a massive sense of entitlement deciding that entirely legitimate neutral rules don’t apply to him.

      So, please give us an example of anti-Christian discrimination that is genuine anti-Christian discrimination rather than a demand for special rights. No special rights, I always say.

      1. And if the student had been Black and written about Malcolm X, or gay and written about Harvey Milk, that would have been OK.

        Enough said?

        1. How do you know that? How do you know the teacher would have approved those papers?

          1. More importantly: why would he assume that a black person automatically knows about Malcolm X?

            1. LTG, that occurred to me as well. However, I decided Dr. Ed’s apparent clairvoyance that allows him to know what a teacher he’s most likely never met would do in a hypothetical situation was a far easier target.

              1. Agree to disagree on which ridiculous assumption makes the easier target.

                1. I agree with Krychek, because it’s trivial to modify Dr Ed’s hypothetical by adding that the student has demonstrated prior knowledge of the subject. Dr Ed still supposes the teacher would have accepted such a submission, and it’s fair to ask how he knows this.

                  Sometimes it’s obvious, but not in this instance.

            2. why would he assume that a black person automatically knows about Malcolm X?

              OR that a Sixth Grader automatically knows everything about Jesus?

              1. Strawman. This sixth grader had already demonstrated that he knew something about Jesus. The project was to write about a subject on which the student knew nothing before undertaking it.

        2. Do black or gay people automatically know about these people? Do they talk about them at the black or gay meetings they regularly have on Sunday? I mean if you’re a church going Christian, you are instructed in the life and teachings of Jesus. Black people and gay people aren’t instructed in the life and teachings of Malcolm X and Harvey Milk by the mere fact that they happen to be black or gay.

          1. I’m a few years older and have six more academic degrees (including HS Diploma) than she, and *I* don’t know everything about Jesus. For example, I couldn’t place Bethlehem within a couple thousand miles, if that.

            And as to Malcolm X and Harvey Milk, you clearly aren’t familiar with modern K-12 curriculum.

            1. I have a law degree, and have been a trial attorney for 30 years, and I don’t know *everything* about the law. That doesn’t mean the teacher wouldn’t have been justified in telling me to find a non-law-related topic had I been enrolled in that class.

              1. You never have tried to get children to write — I’d have let her write about anything that wouldn’t get me in trouble with my principal.

        3. And if the student had been Black and written about Malcolm X, or gay and written about Harvey Milk, that would have been OK.

          That’s fucking idiotic. Do you have anything to contribute besides your fantasies?

      2. “no special rights, I always say”

        You, fortunately, don’t have final say, the 1st Amendment does.

        Even the Supreme Court said that Masterpiece Cake Shop was being harassed, and this was BEFORE another suit was filed after he pretty much won at the highest court in the land. The folks in CO can’t just let themselves lose gracefully, especially when they have the taxpayers funding them.

        Look, in general, Christians are not discriminated against like we are Jews in Nazi Germany. But it’s subtle, its real, and it happens. It’s more akin to sexual harassment that women face than anything else. We bear our crosses and move on, but there are still some big cases that put it out there in front of everyone’s faces.

      3. It is plain to see that you think the right to practice ones religion is an inherent “special right”.

        1. It depends on what you mean by practicing your religion. The 9/11 hijackers were practicing their religion. I would say you have the inherent right to practice your religion so long as you’re not interfering with someone else’s equal right to not be dragged into it.

    5. “these types of Christians face discrimination on a daily basis”

      I think if you dialed it down just a bit and said Christians like these need to be on their guard against harassment, I’d be more inclined to agree.

      If we look at the Smith decision (one of Scalia’s worst legacies), it’s OK for the government to “accidentally” step on small or unpopular religions so long as the government’s little “whoopsie” can be categorized as a generally applicable law.

      Not to mention (as discussed in this thread) the threat of fines for a business which holds to a definition of marriage which was socially normative until recently.

      You might recall that the U. S. was founded by people (including lots of evangelicals) who rebelled against the government when experiencing the first pinpricks of arbitrary government, rather than shrugging, putting up with it, and saying “at least Britain isn’t the Ottoman Empire.”

  7. Maybe it’s because these churches are mostly made of Americans, a previously free people who have generally operated under the principles of free speech, religion, and the right to do what you want unless you’re harming someone else, and a bunch of wannabe tyrants who have been wrong about pretty much every prediction on this are not considered sufficient authority to overrule those traditions?

    1. A cop in WA just got fired because he said he would not follow unconstitutional orders from his boss. This country, formerly known as America, was a great place up until the Achtung liberals took over a few months ago.

      1. So every cop should decide for himself which orders are legitimate and which are not?

        1. Ultimately, yes, and be held accountable if it comes down to it, or resign if possible. That’s how the military works, because you can’t just say “I was following orders” for illegal and unconstitutional orders. The Nuremberg defense fails when we get down to brass tacks.

          How often does this really come up though? Not much really, a few people “resisting” Trump aside, or MacArthur being fired; it’s rare and high profile.

        2. Actually yes. We ask police to do this every day. If his supervisor orders him to beat a prisoner both society and the law expect that cop to refuse and then blow the whistle on his boss.

        3. The cop takes an oath, and that oath is to the constitution, not the tyrant currently in office. In the cases where I have been able to find the actual oath online, it either explicitly requires ignoring unlawful orders, or only require following lawful and/or constitutional orders.
          So refusing to enforce a speed limit, not OK.
          Refusing an order to round up all the Jews for transportation due to an ’emergency’, required.

        4. How else could it be, when a cop risks prosecution for obeying an unlawful order?

        5. Krychek_2 — Wasn’t the principle of Nuremburg that “I was just following orders” didn’t cut it?

        6. One and all, you missed the point of my question. Jimmy was complaining that a cop got fired for saying he wouldn’t obey orders. I’m trying to determine his position on whether there’s a general principle involved — and if so what — with respect to cops not following orders. Or, is it just that he doesn’t like these particular orders?

          1. The cop said he wouldn’t obey orders that violate the constitution. Since he is legally required to refuse such orders, and can be prosecuted for not doing so, it would seem to be unacceptable to fire him for declaring such a refusal. And the law does seem to expect each cop to make that determination for himself.

            1. Except that cops are not expected to be experts in constitutional law. Sure, some stuff is obvious — it’s unconstitutional to beat a black guy because he’s black — but on these virus-related lockdowns, lawyers and judges don’t even agree on what’s constitutional.

              1. The cop still has to make that call for himself. Even experts in constitutional law don’t agree, so I would consider that a red herring. As evidence for disagreement among constitutional law experts, I offer the multitude of 5-4 and 6-3 SCOTUS decisions (that’s as far as I went because the closer we get to 8-1, the more pedantic my position becomes).

                The parallel in the US military is also whether to obey a lawful order. Few soldiers are experts in the UCMJ, Geneva Convention, and so on. Even so, the greenest Private is expected to discern a lawful order from an unlawful one, and take the consequences of making the wrong call either way.

  8. Contagion is a function of viral load and time exposed: the longer people are together in an enclosed space, the more likely it is that they will receive a high-enough concentration of the virus to be infected and for the disease to spread.

    Notwithstanding the major guesses in your evidence regarding infectious dosage, how is this different from the enclosed space of a law office or airline terminal, let alone the pressurized tube of an airplane? And while I’d have trouble imagining a 2-hour church service today (the 18th Century was a different story), people routinely spend 2-8 hours, sometimes more, in the other venues.

    The risk also increases when people sing together, as in a choir.

    The example cited by your evidence was that of an actual choir *practicing* for 2.5 hours in a room “the size of a volleyball court.” That’s inherently different from the choir and/or congregation singing maybe 10 minutes in a *much* larger building, particularly in terms of cubic footage. (It’s why fighting a fire in a church is such an impossible task.)

    …there may be something about church services, like concerts and lectures, that make them more apt to be sources of viral spread than other gatherings, something that approximates a qualitative difference, when it comes to contagion…

    The government doesn’t get to use its police powers to suppress a Constitutional right on the basis of vague “somethings” that “may” exist — nor should it expect to be respected when it does.

    1. Governors don’t have the ability to regulate air travel, so the fact they haven’t done so really doesn’t say anything about whether they’re being consistent or not in their pandemic responses.

  9. An argument based on differential risk of contagion would make sense and be entirely defensible if the basis for the differential risk was known at the time the order was created. Post hoc justifications, however, violate the rule of law even when they turn out to be right.

  10. I don’t see the value in second-guessing the theological underpinnings of plaintiffs’ cases here. Group worship is a standard religious practice; it is not for judges to assess how important it is to a particular religious systems. It’s quite plausible that it may have an importance to individual plaintiffs for reasons that have nothing to do with its formal doctrinal role.

    It’s certainly plausible that in general people who sue the government are less deferential to government authority than people who don’t. I’m not sure if the fact that this suit happens to be about religion would make it any different from the general case.

  11. > there may be something about church services…that make them more apt to be sources of viral spread….And if that’s true, it would explain why…government could curtail the former while allowing the latter.

    Does the government have to prove this? Or can they get away with hypothesizing a set of facts that could be true?

    1. fake edit This is the 1st amendment, after all.

  12. I guess I missed the part where the infringing government entity offered to provide all necessary technological support to congregations no currently set up for online activity.
    Including providing computers and full instructions to elderly, and/or visually impaired congregants.
    But that is irrelevant. The government did not determine the least impactful method of accomplishing the stated goal of infection reductions, so the actions are still unconstitutional.

    1. And you cannot sever it from government’s stated interest, which is not overwhelming hospitals, and not preventing spread itself.

      We get to go get food and medicine because we have to. Power and police and some stores have to be open. There is no reason government gets to declare religion of second tier importance when The People informed the government of its importance level when they created it.

  13. Just like anyone can be a member of the “press” in 2020…anyone can create a religion in 2020. Those two terms in the 1A should simply be ignored and the focus should be on free speech and free association. So as a non religious person that doesn’t get a paycheck from a media company I don’t want anyone getting special protections that I don’t get. So if I ever need those protections I will simply hold myself out as a pastor of my own religion or hold myself out as a journalist for my own blog.

    1. I don’t disagree — my issue was the law firms and airport lounges.
      If they’d banned those — if they’d respected content neutrality, then I’d agree with you. But they didn’t….

    2. So as a non religious person that doesn’t get a paycheck from a media company I don’t want anyone getting special protections that I don’t get. So if I ever need those protections I will simply hold myself out as a pastor of my own religion or hold myself out as a journalist for my own blog.

      Sebastian, not buying that with regard to journalism. Freedom of the press must extend alike to everyone. But if people using that freedom are not acting alike, some may receive specific or informal protections which others do not get, because the others are not doing specific things which some press protections are meant to foster. Sometimes, the others may not be able to do them.

      The line distinguishing what kinds of activity a journalist can accomplish follows closely the divide between an institutional approach, and an individual one. Individual journalists acting alone can almost never investigate and publish stories which depend on confidential sources inside government. That is not because of any lack of personal ability among sole practitioners. They may have skills which rank among the best. It is because confidential sources withhold information until they can be assured of the kind of broad journalistic impact that only an institutional press can deliver.

      The motives for that are at least twofold. One is simply the desire of a source with confidential information, if taking a personal risk, to be repaid with influence. The other is self-preservation. A story which achieves a broadly successful critique of government action tends to immunize its publisher from reprisals—and that in turn tends to protect the source. Sole journalistic practitioners can almost never deliver that kind of safety to sources, so sole practitioners almost never can publish stories of that kind.

      A brilliant investigative journalist with a string of successes at a major press institution will typically fall flat if he strikes out on his own. His abilities have not changed. His contacts have not changed. Only his reliable ability to deliver a large audience for a story has changed, and that makes all the difference. Without prospect to influence a large audience, and without safety from reprisals, confidential sources will not talk.

      For that reason, distinctive activities which an institutional press practices in the course of investigative journalism must receive either specific or informal legal protections, or a large piece of press freedom goes away. No press freedom is lost if an individual journalistic practitioner cannot get legal protection for activities he does not engage in, and could not accomplish anyway.

      And note, every person is always at liberty to found an institutional press, and reap the protections the Constitution has afforded for that distinctive kind of activity. What is protected is primarily the activity itself, and only incidentally the person practicing it.

      As for your concern that others not get special protections not extended to you, it is misplaced. First, because those protections are extended to you, if you do the activities which are protected. If you do not do those activities, then whatever loss you suffer is by your own choice, and not by any discrimination against you by government. And second, even if you do not choose to practice institutional publishing, benefits flow to society at large when others do it, and you share in those benefits. That is why the founders chose to protect constitutionally an institutional press.

      Seen thus, your concern that press freedom be narrowed to the scope a typical lone-wolf blogger can make full use of, is not a defense of press freedom, but instead a call for press freedom to be constrained. That sort of advocacy has become a popular cover for folks on the political right. It affords them an opportunity to appear superficially even-handed, while calling for constraint of institutional press institutions they dislike. I hope that is not you, because arguing that way is neither forthright, nor a defense of press freedom.

  14. Now this is a puzzle, because in Christian terms … Evangelical worship is non-liturgical. It emphasizes the teaching of Scripture, not the sacraments. The main point of Evangelical worship is for people to gather to hear the Gospel truly preached. As a result, Evangelical services can be adapted to the online idiom fairly easily. Something important is lost, of course: the fellowship of other believers. But the faithful can listen to a powerful sermon over the internet, at home.

    It’s like the answer to your puzzle is right there in front of you, but you just don’t quite see it.

  15. There’s at least one Jewish plaintiff, in the NJ case.

    Jews are actually perhaps the religion most affected by these orders, since prayer as it is supposed to be done, three times a day, requires a quorum of ten adult male Jews. Private prayer, to which we are reduced these days, is not the same thing at all. Supposedly God is not guaranteed to hear private prayer, and relies on the angels to convey it to Him (I won’t go into what exactly that may mean, and what exactly is the distinction between angels and God Himself). And several key elements of the services, known as devarim shebikdusha (my best attempt at translation is “matters of holiness”, but that’s not entirely satisfactory), must be omitted when praying alone.

    This is why there are so many reports of Jews surreptitiously breaking the rules by conducting group prayer in secret, or pushing the boundaries by holding such services outdoors with proper distancing.

    The reason most rabbis have ordered their communities to stop holding group prayers is because of the prominent place Jewish law gives to avoiding any significant risk to life. Very few commandments override this, and prayer isn’t one of them. If prayer is too dangerous, then don’t pray. Therefore if group prayer is too dangerous, pray alone.

    But another significant reason is the fear that holding such services, even safely, will provoke antisemitism and the long-term risk to life inherent in that. Hence the secret services, sometimes held by the same rabbis who publicly proclaim they should not be held.

  16. The main point of Catholic and Orthodox Christian worship, by contrast, is the distribution of Holy Communion, which Catholics and Orthodox faithful hold to be the real Body and Blood of Christ.

    I can’t speak for the Orthodox, but this emphasis on distribution of Holy Communion being the main point is quite recent, in historical terms. For centuries, congregants rarely received communion. They were required to receive at least once a year (the “Easter duty”), but had to attend (“assist at”) Mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation. The “the main point” was to assist in the offering of what was (and still is) regarded the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the offering up by the priest of the body and blood of Christ to God the Father, on behalf of the people and in persona Christi.

    You might think that assisting in that way could “be adapted to the online idiom fairly easily,” but you’d be wrong. Ever since watching televised Masses became an option, the Catholic Church has held that doing so was no substitute for attending in person (except in case where the latter was not possible).

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