COVID-19 and Restrictions on Religious Institutions: Constitutional Implications

Kathleen A. Brady is Senior Fellow and McDonald Distinguished Fellow with the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University

When the dangers of COVID-19 first became apparent to the American public this past March, few churches resisted state and local lockdown orders that prohibited or severely limited in-person worship services. The potential for congregational gatherings to rapidly spread the virus was widely understood, and most religious believers probably anticipated a relatively short disruption. However, as the pandemic nears its seventh month and many jurisdictions retain substantial restrictions on in-person worship, many Americans are growing increasingly frustrated with limits that impinge upon core religious practices and undermine the spiritual, social and emotional goods that these practices nourish. It is not surprising, then, that litigation over restrictions on in-person worship has been increasing.


Continue Reading COVID-19 and Restrictions on Religious Institutions: Constitutional Implications

Christian Public Engagement in a Time of Crisis

Anton Sorkin is an employment attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, and a doctoral candidate at the Emory University School of Law

“If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.”

W.H. Auden

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced us all to a common experience. Whether it’s through our means of income or the daily disturbance of patterned existence, our lives have been put on pause for a period that feels almost indefinite. Widespread orders have forced believers to gather online – challenging not only the communal function endemic to the life of the church, but also its mandate to love the neighbor through acts of proximate charity. Predictably, this situation has triggered a host of legal issues surrounding exemptions for “essential business or operations,” and raised profound metaphysical queries regarding equal treatment and the psychology behind essential versus non-essential services. In his piece at the Mirror of Justice, Professor Marc DeGirolami keenly observes the nature of our disagreement as an extension of our varying conceptions of “the good” in relation to human activity:

If one’s view is that all of the true goods of religious observance can be obtained individually, at home, in solitary prayer in front of a screen, then one will think that distinguishing between churches and liquor stores—treating the goods of the human activities that these places foster unequally—is perfectly justified.


Continue Reading Christian Public Engagement in a Time of Crisis

Religious Exceptions to COVID Vaccine Mandates

Doriane Lambelet Coleman is Professor of Law at Duke Law School, Senior Fellow at Duke University’s Kenan Institute for Ethics, and Associate of the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine

Just as individual cells are permeable so that disease can move from cell to cell and spread within our bodies, so too our bodies are permeable so that disease can move from individual to individual and spread within our communities. Those who’ve recovered from infectious disease typically have some degree of immunity, which results from the antibodies we develop to fight the infection.  Like soldiers who’ve defeated the enemy and stand guard for a time to repel further invasions, antibodies linger in our cells, remembering the disease and how to fight it if it returns.  The immunity that comes from having survived disease may be incomplete or temporary, but so long as it resides within us, we’re unlikely to become ill again ourselves, and we’re also unlikely to contaminate others.


Continue Reading Religious Exceptions to COVID Vaccine Mandates