To the Editor:
COVID-19 is a serious bona fide threat. Governor Roy Cooper, too, is a serious bona fide threat — to the 1st Amendment! People can congregate in North Carolina’s liquor stores, practicing social distancing; but people cannot congregate in churches, practicing social distancing. Hundreds of ReOpen NCers can congregate and protest Cooper’s Stay-at-Home Order, practicing social distancing; but more than 10 believers cannot congregate and worship in a Sunday service, practicing social distancing. Legal grocery store capacity is based on square footage, but legal church capacity, based on square footage, is forbidden. About 500 people can shop at Home Depot at once, but 11 people in a megachurch cannot pass an offering plate. State employees can commune in state offices, but the brethren cannot commune in their churches. Approximately 175 people are permitted in a large Food Lion, but churches cannot even enjoy church dinners outdoors in open air.
Governor Cooper, right now, according to constitutional experts, is violating the First Amendment, because he is treating essential churches differently than he is treating essential businesses. Government can limit churches in health emergencies as long as it is “generally applicable,” some legal experts say (some say not at all!); but the burden shifts to government every time it attempts to limit churches differently than it limits businesses (i.e. 10 people to a church and 175 to a grocery store). I think square-footage requirements in this pandemic should be applied to essential churches, just as they are applied to essential businesses. If we are responsible enough to social distance buying food, we are responsible enough to social distance worshiping.
I am NOT suggesting that churches be lawbreakers; I am suggesting that we get ourselves a new governor at the ballot box who upholds constitutional law and the rights of believers in any crisis.