Religion and the Law

"Pentecostal Pastor Won't Stop Church for COVID-19"


So reports Christianity Today (Daniel Silliman):

The Oneness Pentecostal congregation met on Tuesday, despite the declaration of a state-wide public health emergency banning gatherings of 50 or more people. Life Tabernacle Church plans to meet again on Sunday, setting up a possible legal clash between religious liberty protections and the state's authority to respond to a pandemic.

"The virus, we believe, is politically motivated," pastor Tony Spell told CNN affiliate WAFB. "We hold our religious rights dear, and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says."

The church typically draws more than 1,000 attendees on Sunday. About 300 gathered Tuesday night …. "This is an extreme test brought on us by the spirit of antichrist and the mystery of lawlessness," [Spell] told the congregation. "What good is the church in an hour of peril if the the church craters and caves in to the fears and the spirits of torment in our society?" …

R. R. Reno, the editor of the conservative religious magazine First Things, wrote that political leaders might be right to take "stern measures to slow the spread of the virus," but that churches should not close.

"When we worship, we join the Christian rebellion against the false lordship of the principalities and powers that claim to rule our lives, including sickness and death," Reno argued. "Closing churches and cancelling services betrays [the] duty of spiritual care."

NEXT: Bankruptcy and Magistrate Judges?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I knew there had to be a silver lining. Keep ’em open, and pack in the faith-based prohibitionists. Call it Velocirapture!

    1. It may (or may not) be a placebo effect, but the “power of prayer” to heal has been documented.

      1. But not cited. Makes it hard to evaluate your claim.

      2. There are occasional cases of people who are healed following prayer.

        On the other side of the ledger, there are millions of people who pray and then die of disease anyway.

        Given that prayer does not result in healing far more often than it does, my inclination is that on those few occasions when there is healing, prayer had little to do with it.

        1. There are also total frauds promoting the “power of prayer” to gain cash in their pockets. I actually saw it happen when I was a kid back in the 70’s.

        2. There are occasional cases of people who are healed following prayer.

          There are cases of people getting well after praying. That’s not the same thing.

  2. If they insist on going into cult mode, I say let them. Require the congregates establish group quarantine guarded by law enforcement.

  3. Kirkland bait!!!

    1. What more needs to be stated? That report, coupled with the proprietor’s failure to muster a single negative word about the pastor, says everything anyone needs to know these days about belligerently ignorant, reckless, selfish, superstitious jerks and the conservative Republicans who appease, enable, and align with them.

      1. May I suggest you read Ann Coulter’s most recent column?

        1. Not only do I not have time to read Ann Coulter, I would not have time to read Ann Coulter even if I were stranded on an island with nothing else to do.

      2. Are you saying that you think Prof. Volokh supports the pastor’s position?

      3. Agreed. Now, as to the legality of it…

  4. “‘Thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the proof.'”

  5. I’m getting Snowcrash flashbacks.

  6. Why these Christians don’t end the coronavirus and heal all the people who’ve been infected with it is beyond reason. After all, according to their Bible, they have the power to end the coronavirus and to heal the sick. John 14:12-14 says that Jesus said not only can Christians do all the things he allegedly did, like walking on water, healing people and raising the dead, they can do even more than that. Verse 14 says that Jesus said (it’s all hearsay), “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” So why don’t they ask Jesus to end the coronavirus and heal the sick, and then they can have their large church services without any concern about crowd size? The fact that they don’t/can’t do this as their Bible promises, along with many other things, shows the American Founder and Deist Thomas Paine was correct when in The Age of Reason ( ) he called for a revolution in religion based on our innate God-given reason and Deism.

    1. As an aside, are you familiar with Mary Baker Eddy and the First Church of Christ, Scientist (aka the Christian Scientists)? (They are the folk who publish the Christian Science Monitor newspaper.)

      They believe exactly what you suggest — and courts (at least in Massachusetts) have upheld their right to do so.

  7. This minister was on Rush Limbough’s show today, and he raised an interesting point that I am not sure that he quite realized.

    As I understand it, California has closed “nonessential” businesses while allowing “essential” ones to remain open, with the ultimate irony being that hospitals are considered “essential” while companies that repair their essential equipment are not.

    Well, what right does the State of California to decide that a Marijuana Dispensary is “essential” while a church is not — neither is essential for preservation of physical life, and church services provide a strong psychological (and hence physical) benefit many people. The “power of prayer” is documented — possibly a placebo effect, possibly not — but definitely documented.

    And some people, facing death, are worried about their souls. That’s something that the state definitely can’t touch.

    Hence how does California not violate the establishment clause by considering churches “non essential” while considering the distribution of Marijuana (which is prohibited by Federal law) to be “essential.”

    A secondary issue is that this church apparently caters to a low-income congregation and provides a lot of social services (including food) to them. Well the Trinity Lutheran decision would apply to that — they have to be held to/by the same standards as secular food-distributing, social-service providing groups. Likewise with their blood drive — it has to be treated like any other blood drive.

    1. Why did you consider this bit of Limbaugh culture war nonsense to be an interesting point?

      Because dragging in the demon weed and then talking about religion as tantamount to charitable work is doing a lot of stretching to shake your finger at a strawman.

      1. Why do you consider it nonsense? Because you don’t believe it? That’s hardly dispositive.

        1. It is an illustration of the weaponization of victimhood as practiced by evangelicals and more generally by modern Republicans.

          I live in California. I have issues with the categorization as well. For the record, I didn’t know the pot shops were considered ‘essential’ until you mentioned it, and if it were possible to segregate the recreational use from medical use, I’d be fine with shutting down recreational weed sales or perhaps making it delivery-only. But, as you note, the feds consider it illegal, so those who need it for medical conditions can’t get it from a pharmacy. So there we are. (If you want to claim there are no legitimate medical uses, we’re done talking, because you’re ignoring reality.)

          So what does the political christian do? Whine about those damn liberals and their wacky weed in order to advocate for special rights for christians. In the middle of a pandemic.

          Every time I see stuff like this, it convinces me that it is simply impossible to compromise with people like this, so there is no point in trying.

          1. “people like this”

            I suppose you mean people who disobey health regulations in a pandemic. I’d agree.

        2. I explain why it’s nonsense in my second paragraph. Bringing in pot is needless and specifically for dumb propagandistic reasons.

      2. Charitable work done by religious people remains charitable work. Read the Trinity Lutheran decision.

        1. But you aren’t talking about charity, you’re talking about faith and then switching it out for charity in the middle. Just like you take medical care and switch it out for the demon weed.

          It’s a trick, and it’s pretty lame. And it looks like you fell for it.

      3. A better question is why anyone takes anything Limbaugh says seriously.

        Few have had as toxic an effect on the country as that asshole.

    2. The “power of prayer” is documented — possibly a placebo effect, possibly not — but definitely documented.

      Government judgement of the validity of religion is irrelevant. It doesn’t have this power.

      Shutting business. Closing churches. DOJ asking for the power to detain without trial indefinitely. Places considering martial law.

      Nah, nothing of concern. Full faith in our dear leaders.

  8. For a second, I thought R. R. Reno was urging massive meetings like that Pentecostal pastor was doing.

    But checking his article showed that he wasn’t talking about 2,000 person assemblies:

    “Closing churches is utterly unnecessary. People can gather to pray before the reserved sacrament while maintaining the “social distancing” advised by public health experts. Modest-sized Masses can be conducted in ways that do not irresponsibly risk spreading the virus. The same holds for baptisms and funerals. In some circumstances, pastors can limit attendance to immediate family. But simply suspending the sacraments suggests that the Church lives in accord with the world’s priorities….

    “…Many steps short of suspension and cancellation can be taken to ensure that prayer, worship, and the administration of the sacraments are done in responsible ways….”

  9. Search on: “Half of South Korea’s coronavirus cases are linked to a controversial religious organization”

    …and read any of the articles that pop up. Most are from the end of Feb when South Korea had only a few hundred diagnosed cases, with half linked to a single member of the church (who, against medical direction, had left a hospital four times to attend church events).

  10. Please, trust in god and Jesus. They will keep you safe and healthy.
    Show the world the mercy of your God. Prove that prayer works.
    (I love it when natural selection goes to work. It’s been too lazy for too long. There is way too many stupid people on this planet. This could be the best thing to happen on earth in a long time.)
    (Somebody cough on Trump and Pence, please.)

Please to post comments