The US churches and pastors ignoring ‘stay-at-home’ orders

Concerted effort to protect religious freedoms is playing out as some states exempt houses of worship from stay-home orders

Phillip Herring, associate pastor of education at First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va., raises his hands in prayer during the National Call to Prayer for Spiritual Leadership, Revived Churches and Nationwide and Global Awakening at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention on June 14, 2016 in St. Louis. Photo by Matt Miller, courtesy of Southern Baptist Convention

In executive orders issued in quick succession this week, DeSantis designated religious services as “essential activities”. Then he swept away the right of cities and counties to ban them.

“I don’t think the government has the authority to close a church. I’m certainly not going to do that,” DeSantis said. “In Easter season, people are going to want to have access to religious services.”

This, however, was no municipality-versus-state power struggle. A concerted effort to protect religious freedoms is playing out across the country in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, frustrating efforts by public health officials to enforce social distancing per federal guidelines and slow the spread of the deadly virus.

In almost all of the states that lead the nation in numbers of cases, and which have issued blanket stay-at-home orders, there are specific exemptions for religious gatherings or acts of worship, a survey by the Guardian of published regulations and media coverage found.

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