by Brenée Goforth
Media Manager & Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
Carolina Journal recently reported on the prohibition of a “drive through” church service in Wake County due to its social distancing guidelines. JLF’s Jon Sanders wrote a research brief this week examining the problems with the decision. Sanders writes:
it’s a clear violation of people’s religious freedoms. Those are the very first rights secured from government usurpation in the Bill of Rights… This same reasoning is why Wake County had to back off closing guns and ammunition shops as “nonessential” — because they are essential to upholding Second Amendment rights.
Even if restricting this right was in the cards, the way Wake County restricted this service is unconstitutional. Sanders explains:
Wake’s order goes well beyond what courts would allow in times of crisis. Guze points out that courts require restrictions on religious freedom to meet the very tough tests of meeting “a compelling government interest” and be “narrowly tailored” to achieve only that interest in “the least restrictive way possible.”
A restriction amid a pandemic is a compelling government interest, but an order that treats a drive-through, stay-in-your-cars Easter Message as essentially no different from a packed, one-room “Let’s All Hug for Jesus” service is not narrowly tailored in the slightest. It fails that test and is an unconstitutional violation of religious freedoms.
The order is also discriminatory to the type of service churches provide. Sander writes:
Wake’s order treats churches differently from other businesses. Singling churches out from other businesses is unconstitutional on its face. It fails even at the “drive-through” level. There’s a greater risk of infection from point-of-sale at a fast-food drive-through than at what Partin proposed for Plymouth Church.
Forbidding drive-in/drive-through church following Social Distancing strictures while allowing drive-through at Burger King et al. is not only facially unconstitutional, it flunks common sense.