As we enter a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, faith communities across the country continue to care for and sustain one another without endangering public health. But a small but growing effort to sidestep emergency orders is gaining steam under the guise of religious freedom, regardless of risk.
In a joint statement released on April 12, 2021, Interfaith Alliance joined 26 national religious organizations and denominations in opposing efforts to create permanent religious exemptions to emergency orders. We were honored to lead this effort in partnership with the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
Times of public crisis demand that all community leaders—religious, secular, and governmental—work together to find solutions. Participating organizations celebrated the many “creative ways [we have found] to provide opportunities for worship during the pandemic, recognizing the spiritual sustenance and sense of community that religious practices provide.” But, as we work together to promote true religious freedom, signers caution against tying the hands of public officials who would safeguard public health as they respond to unforeseen events like pandemics, natural disasters, and other emergencies.
As our nation begins to recover from the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, our experiences over the past year can inform the proactive steps needed to keep ourselves safe in future crises. This letter, alongside persistent advocacy by faith leaders before all levels of government, makes abundantly clear that most religious communities are committed to working in partnership to promote our shared safety – even as some seek special exemptions.
These efforts, however, have found success before the Supreme Court in recent months. Only a few days before the release of the letter, the court invalidated California’s temporary restrictions on at-home gatherings that bring together more than three households as a burden on religious exercise. Scholars note that this decision in Tandon v. Newsom may create a new legal standard by which to measure governmental actions that impact religion, extending the legal ramifications of these exemptions well beyond the current crisis.
Signers of the April 12th letter emphasized that, even as these disputes proceed through the courts, our shared values motivate our communities to act with caution and care. Across belief and practice, we are united by “a deeply-held commitment to protecting life and the most vulnerable among us.” Through this public health emergency and beyond, we will continue to prioritize the health and safety of our communities and lead by example.
Read the full letter, joined by: ADL (Anti-Defamation League); Alliance of Baptists; American Baptist Home Mission Societies; Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; Baptist Women In Ministry; Bend the Arc: Jewish Action; Central Conference of American Rabbis; Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; Disciples Center for Public Witness; Disciples Justice Action Network; Equal Partners in Faith; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Fellowship Southwest; Interfaith Alliance; KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights; Men of Reform Judaism; Methodist Federation for Social Action; Muslim Advocates; National Council of Churches; National Council of Jewish Women; Presbyterian Church (USA), Office of Public Witness; Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; Union for Reform Judaism; Unitarian Universalist Association; Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice; United Church of Christ, Justice and Local Church Ministries; Women of Reform Judaism.
Learn more about how Interfaith Alliance works to advance true religious freedom for all.