THE FIRST AMENDMENT
First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
While I do not criticize Patriot Groups/Organizations from canceling physical rallies because of concerns about COVID-19, I am deeply concerned about Patriot Groups/Organizations closing their meetings in response to a Government mandate. Some Patriots are passionate about their beliefs and their God given rights. Other ones may be skittish about contracting COVID-19. The skittish ones and everyone with symptoms can remain at home. But when it comes to our God given rights, the Government does not have to right to determine how we can exercise our rights or how we should demonstrate those rights by mandating we cannot assemble.
To even mandate that business should close there must be a provable compelling reason. There is a compelling reason to believe that the COVID-19 crisis is media-hyped and fear-driven. On paper, the stats and other essential information concerning COVID-19, do not add up to a crisis. Furthermore, several esteemed medical professionals have stated that the COVID-19 virus is way overblown and the measures taken by the Government are extreme. Not only is our economy being shut down, which will have devastating consequences, but now a precedent is being set that the Government can override the First Amendment to compel churches to suspend meetings. Should the Government be given the precedence to exercise such a power over the First Amendment based on such a flimsy premise?
Consider that in Texas Gov Greg Abbott ordered bars, nightclubs, restaurants, entertainment venues and gyms to close as a measure to flatten the curve of COVID-19. Texas Gov Greg Abbott also called on houses of worship to close, but he wisely did not mandate their compliance.
Okay, churches could comply with that “request” without any danger to their First Amendment rights. However, one church recognized the danger of submitting to a mandate and chose to exercise their constitutional freedom to assemble.
In Louisiana, one pastor said that he believes COVID-19 is “politically motivated.” Therefore, he rejected the Governor’s mandate that services must be suspended. The church held a meeting on March 17 with hundreds of people attending. Although the police arrived and threatened that the National Guard would close them down, they held another meeting.
Woody Jenkins, a former Louisiana state legislator, supports the church’s right to assemble. Jenkins stated, “Our attitude is the First Amendment rights rise and fall together: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press.”
Clay Higgins, a U.S. Congressman from Louisiana, sent a letter to the Governor declaring that his mandate on church gatherings is unconstitutional.
“I agree that all our constituents and religious leaders should follow the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC),” Higgins wrote. “However, the decision to gather should be the choice of the individual or institution and not a mandate by any government entity. The state has no authority to enforce this proclamation nor any ban on the first amendment.”
In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday issued an executive order prohibiting all gatherings of more than 250 people, including religious meetings. Rep. Beau LaFave responded that the order is a violation of the First Amendment right to assemble and free exercise of religion LaFave said that the violation that amounted to throwing constitutional rights “out the window.”
“I will always be the first person to agree with Gov. Whitmer that the state should take pro-active, sound measures to prevent the spread of any illness,” he said. “However, we must take action that is not in violation of the Constitution.”
Attorney Otten Johnson opined that based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators’ Association, “restrictions on assembly are analyzed identically to restrictions on speech.”
In other words, if the government can mandate the churches must close, it could possibly mandate a gag order on speech. If a Governor or President insists is a compelling reason to mandate all preaching and teaching should be suspended, would Richard Hammer concur?
Johnson implies that there may not be enough precedent in the courts for the Government to enforce a mandate prohibiting our 1st Amendment rights.
“Most religious groups gather at least some number of people together, and restrictions on large gatherings might well impact these organizations’ rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. In the case of a pandemic, governments may ultimately rely on compelling governmental interests—protection of life and health—to support their regulations. But beware, as there is little case law outlining what might constitute a compelling interest.”
While the Government may claim precedence because of a health crisis, it is my strong opinion (and I am not a lawyer) that preserving the First Amendment is of greater concern.
“Oh, but we wouldn’t take advantage and abuse the First Amendment,” they may say.
Really? Why do we not trust you? It is not wise to trust a Government that in one year has a President that is favorable to Christianity, but the next year may have a President that has demonstrably anti-Christian? Would we want such a President to have the authority to ignore the First Amendment? I can imagine someone, such as Bernie Sanders, becoming President and using this precedence to prohibit church meetings based on a perceived threat to abortions rights, homosexual rights, or to his implementation of Socialism. Are the people ready to put their historical barrier against Government interference in their right to assemble in such jeopardy?
What if one day we were told that we will not be allowed to buy or sell anything until we pledge allegiance to the Government, concede that it has power over our all our rights and all religion, and allow a mark to be tattooed on our hands and foreheads, publicly expressing our compliance? When are people going to wake up to the fact that there are some things worth standing for even if it means denying ourselves?
Our rights come from God, not the constitution. The Constitution is there to limit Government from stepping on our rights. Therefore we will continue to exercise our God given rights.
(This article reflects my opinion and not the views of the organization (members and directors as a whole)