Quarantines, Religious Groups, and Some Questions About Equality

Christopher C. Lund is Professor of law at Wayne State University Law School

When the government imposes quarantine orders for public safety, shutting some places down and leaving other places open, how should it treat religious organizations and religious services?  A natural answer is that religious organizations should be treated equally. And that makes sense. Equality is a solid moral principle, with wide-ranging appeal and deep roots in history and in law.

But equality is not self-executing. And the deeper one goes into these quarantine orders, the more that becomes apparent.  We are trying to treat religion equally, but we don’t quite know how. I’m planning a longer piece that will go into more details. But for this blog post, let me simply try to demonstrate two things to you.  First, quarantine schemes require judgments about the value of religious exercise—which is uncomfortable in a system like ours, which tries to keep the government out of such questions.  And second, by insisting that all gatherings of all religious organizations be treated the same way, quarantine schemes become blind to genuine religious differences. We are deciding how much to restrict religious organizations in general by imagining what happens in a religious service, but our imagined religious service ends up looking a lot like a Sunday morning Christian worship service.


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Faith-Based Organizations Responding to COVID-19


This blog post by Brett G. Scharffs, Director of the International Center for Law and Relgion Studies, and Katherine Marshall, Senior Fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for  Religion, Peace & World Affairs, overviews a webinar on “COVID-19, Religion and Belief: Contribution of Faith-Based Humanitarian Organizations” held on June 25, 2020. The online discussion was the twelfth in a series of webinars organized by a coalition of organizations: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, European Union Office; BYU International Center for Law and Religion Studies; Cambridge Institute on Religion and International Studies; Bruno Kessler Foundation/CIRIS; University of Siena; and FGV Escola de Direito do Rio de Janeiro.

The COVID-19 crisis is rocking societies, economies, and institutions across the world. That includes religious communities and organizations. On June 25, an online discussion shone the spotlight on humanitarian organizations, as many are driven by faith inspiration and are playing—and are likely to continue playing—vital roles in responding to the vast human needs the crisis exposes.

Simona Cruciani, from the UN Genocide Prevention Office, moderated an exchange that centered on the immensity of the human suffering we see and on the ways in which organizations are shifting rapidly to respond. The discussion was set in the context of broader contemporary debates about religious engagement and religious freedom, offering examples of how principles translate into action on a day-to-day basis. While positive response was the main thread running through the discussion, panelists also expressed concern over hate speech, intergroup tensions and violence, and the deep inequalities that the crisis exposes so brutally. (more…)

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