Basic principles such as freedom of assembly and freedom of worship guaranteed by the Constitution are being violated in the United States amid the COVID-19 pandemic, says constitutional attorney Rick Green.
In an interview with The Epoch Times’ “Crossroads,” Green criticized the restrictions on churches imposed by Democratic Govs. Andrew Cuomo in New York and Gavin Newsom in California, as well as in other blue states.
Such restrictions violate the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause guaranteeing the right to practice religion and assemble for its expression without government interference, said Green, a former Texas state representative and co-founder of the Patriot Academy.
“We probably both would have thought 15-16 months ago that this conversation would never happen in our lifetime—that we would even be talking about the fact that governors have actually said to people you cannot sing at church, or that you cannot meet in your home and gather with people for a Bible study or for worship,” said Green.
“I would have never thought that was going to happen in my lifetime in America,” the attorney continued. “Tell me that’s happening in another country? Yeah, I would believe it, but not in America. And whether they use COVID-19, or whatever method they want to use to do that, it is absolutely a violation of those basic principles.”
During the onset of the pandemic last spring, jurisdictions nationwide imposed stringent restrictions on houses of worship, such as attendance limitations of varying degrees depending on the local severity of the surge, social distancing measures, and the wearing of masks, while some imposed outright indoor worship bans.
Churches, many of them in California, filed lawsuits arguing that such limits on communal worship violate religious freedom.
Now, as churches gradually begin to reopen, the majority still operate with virus-related precautions in place, according to data from Pew Research Center. The research notes that just 12 percent of respondents say their congregation is open and operating as usual—just as they were before the pandemic hit the country.
The U.S. Supreme Court, Green said, has failed Americans “miserably”over the last year in responding to lawsuits that attempted to reverse some of these stringent restrictions on houses of worship.
“I thought all of these restrictions on churches meeting, on businesses opening up, would be over very quickly last year, because there’s just not what we would call in constitutional law a compelling interest for government to intervene. But the courts have absolutely ignored it, they’ve all been afraid to act,” said Green.
Only in December 2020 did the Supreme Court side with a California church in ruling that Newsom’s ban on indoor worship amounted to unconstitutional religious discrimination.
Green suggested that the government should have to prove a “compelling interest” in imposing restrictions that violate the American Constitution.
“The more [the] government gets involved in those things, whether it’s in the name of public health, like they’ve done for the last year, and even then from a constitutional perspective, if you want to tell people they can’t meet at church, you ought to have to prove a compelling interest.”
“If there’s an Ebola outbreak and 50 percent of people are dying from it, you could argue that OK, at that particular church where Ebola broke out, we should be able to stop it,” Green explained. “But to take something like what we’re dealing with, with COVID-19, and say that every church cannot meet like they’ve done in California—there’s no compelling interest there.”
Green added: “There’s no evidence, there’s no proof, there’s no due process. It’s absolutely a violation of that freedom of religion.”