As all of you know, these are some very difficult days. While there are a lot of circumstances that trouble us about not being able to get out in public as much as we would like, there are some things for which we should be thankful. We should be thankful that we live in the state of Georgia!
Governor Brian Kemp has been very careful about making sure he maintains a proper balance between religious freedom and the legitimate concerns about public health and safety during the coronavirus pandemic. We can be thankful that he understands that government authority has limits, and those limits are related to the original meaning of the U.S. Constitution.
Over the last month, many government officials in other states have overstepped their authority in attempting to stop the spread of COVID-19. We can be thankful for organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), that has been able to remind government officials that they cannot violate the First Amendment when it comes to regulations placed on churches.
There have been a number of states like Kansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi where ADF was needed to file lawsuits and represent churches where constitutional rights had been violated. The bottom line in each of these cases was that churches could not be treated with more restrictive orders than businesses and other entities.
In Kansas, there were small rural churches that did not have the means to live stream their services. Many of those churches continued to meet while maintaining proper social distancing standards and proper building occupancy requirements.
Kansas churches were forbidden to meet even though large crowds continue to gather at office buildings and retail establishments. Two churches called upon ADF to file a lawsuit to grant them relief from the prohibition to meet. When these churches were ordered to stop meeting, Alliance Defending Freedom stepped in to show the government that churches could not be treated worse than businesses. After the court reviewed the suit, a temporary relief was granted.
In Tennessee, churches – located in an area where one of the worst tornadoes in history had hit – were told they could not hold drive-in services. This was requested even while the churches were following the recommended health guidelines. As churches were being told they could not host drive-in services, businesses such as Sonic and other retail parking lots remained open with large groups of people visiting. In the city of Chattanooga, ADF attorneys were able to file a lawsuit on behalf of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Church regarding the unconstitutionality of the ban on drive-in services.
It was only after the lawsuit was filed that the city agreed to reverse its discriminatory policy against churches. Here we see once again that the government cannot have a more restrictive regulation on churches than it does on businesses that have gatherings relative to the size of churches.
Lastly, in Mississippi there was a similar law in the city in Greenville that would not allow churches to have drive-in services. The enforcement of this law went so far as to even handing out tickets to parishioners for showing up at a church parking lot to listen to the pastor’s message on their car radios with the windows rolled up. This regulation was enforced while at the same time allowing drive-in restaurants to remain open. Once again, it was the involvement of ADF attorneys that were able to reverse this discriminatory law!
The bottom line is this: Times of emergency are never cause for churches to receive second-class treatment from government officials. This is something that we have reason to be thankful for in relationship to our state government in Georgia. But is it something that we can never take for granted!
This is one of the reasons why the Georgia Baptist Mission Board has been encouraging all of our churches to be involved in the ADF Church Alliance program. We can see what has been happening across our nation regarding churches during this health emergency crisis. While indeed we are thankful that this is not happening in Georgia, we have to remember that none of us knows exactly what the future is going to hold. We are living in an ever-changing culture and a country that has elections where leadership changes on a regular basis.
We’re seeing unprecedented attacks on religious freedom across our nation – not just on state levels, but also on local levels. There is going to remain a never-ending need for churches to be protected from the overreach of nondiscrimination and public accommodation laws.
Through an ADF partnership with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, your church can join this program at a discounted rate by just using the promo code “GBMB20” when you apply. Click on the link here and learn more about this legal membership and how it supports religious freedom for your church.
Now is the time to get involved in making sure your church is prepared for the future regarding religious freedom. The mission and the ministry of the Gospel is worthy of everything that we can do.