“Churches” in a Time of Coronavirus

Zachary B. Pohlman is a third-year law student at the University of Notre Dame Law School

Regular in-person gatherings at churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship came to a grinding halt in mid-March. Six months later, religious attendees are returning to the pews—but in significantly fewer numbers.  Whether churchgoers ultimately return to their pre-pandemic levels of in-person worship remains to be seen.  Regardless of whether they do, the coronavirus-induced, steep decline in church attendance—even if only for the short term—could have lasting effects for how we conceive of “churches” from both external and internal perspectives. That is, how we understand churches as both a legal and religious matter could be shaped by the unique challenges presented by the pandemic. (For purposes of this blog post, “churches” refers to houses of worship of all types, including churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples.)


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COVID and Egalitarian Catholic Women’s Movements

Mary Anne Case is Arnold I. Shure Professor of Law and a board member of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at the University of Chicago

In his March 27, 2020 extraordinary message Urbi et Orbi, Pope Francis insisted that the time of coronavirus was “not the time of [God’s] judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.” The injunction “to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing” offered by the Pope came at what may have been a providential time for egalitarian Catholic women’s movements.  As the pandemic closed church buildings worldwide, and both the women and the priests went home and on line, the effect was to energize and unite the former while isolating the latter.  As priests celebrated mass alone, women organized worldwide mixed sex, women-centered participatory Zoom liturgies, and worshipped in house churches and in communities of nuns without benefit of clergy. The choices made during the pandemic may have lasting consequences for both the clergy, who may find it increasingly difficult to overcome their isolation and reconnect with their flock, and the women and their supporters, who seem increasingly disinclined to go back rather than forward.


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When the State Tells You How to Run Your Church Service: Analyzing Coronavirus Guidance Documents on Religious Services

Dwight Newman, QC is Professor of Law & Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Rights in Constitutional and International Law at the University of Saskatchewan and a Munk Senior Fellow (Constitutional Law) at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute

Does the coronavirus pandemic justify the government telling churches how to run their worship services?

Some state governments in the United States and provincial and territorial governments in Canada seem to have thought so during the reopening phase of the pandemic, setting a concerning precedent of relatively detailed governmental regulation of religion. Other governments, facing the same coronavirus pandemic, have managed to engage with religious institutions more respectfully, furthering health goals without imposing detailed requirements on religious services.

In this post, I discuss some striking examples of how coronavirus guidance documents on religious services have differed in ways that show differing levels of respect for principles of state non-interference in religion. While the pandemic situation can obviously justify some steps that would not normally be taken, the different approaches illustrate that governments have had genuine choices about whether to interfere more or to interfere less with religion. The choices they are making have implications in relation to the precedent for future interference.


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