Some U.S. churches will hold services for Easter despite public health guidelines and state orders banning large gatherings. One Baton Rouge area church, for example, is expecting 2,000 or more parishioners to be in attendance for Easter services on Sunday.
Reverend Tony Spell, 42, pastor of the Pentecostal Life Tabernacle Church says :
Satan and a virus will not stop us [from gathering on Easter].
In an interview with Reuters, Spell told a reporter:
God will shield us from all harm and sickness… We are called by God to stand against the Antichrist creeping into America’s borders. We will spread the Gospel.
But in the Gospel temptations of Christ in the desert, Jesus famously quotes a passage from the ancient Hebrew Pentateuch that might be relevant to Spell’s decision:
Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
Meanwhile, the epistle of St. Paul to the early church in Rome — long considered by the faithful and religious scholars as a theological masterpiece– warns:
Obey the government, for God is the One who has put it there. There is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power. So those who refuse to obey the law of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow.
But on Easter Sunday, Spell will be openly defying an executive order by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D). He was already arrested at the end of March for holding services, and charged with six misdemeanors.
The day before, police arrested Florida megachurch pastor Rodney Howard-Browne for holding church services in violation of a public health ban on large gatherings.
Some churches are arguing that prohibitions on services violate their First Amendment right to freely practice their religion. In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) has recommended no gatherings for Easter in light of the continuing threat of coronavirus.
Home Depot has no right to exist under the Constitution, churches do. You don’t throw that out simply in times of crisis, you have to balance that right with the safety of the people.
University of Louisville law professor Sam Marcosson says that’s not quite right:
The only First Amendment right that the church has is not to be singled out for differential treatment. So, if the governor was allowing sporting events but not churches, then they had a claim.
South Texas College of Law professor of constitutional law, Josh Blackman says :
These edicts, without question, substantially burden religion. The only question is whether the government has a compelling enough interest to do it.
Or you might ask, is there any other way for the government to achieve its goals? And the answer is probably, no.
Several states have issued an explicit exemption to coronavirus orders for churches . They’ve deemed them “essential services,” allowing Easter worship to proceed. Some states are even mulling reopening schools.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have encouraged Americans to attend virtual Easter services to help contain COVID-19. Unfortunately, not everyone is listening.