It’s good to know that we’re doing what we need to do right now, which is fining pastors for holding church services.
The leader of Adams Square Baptist Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, is the latest pastor to face some form of government sanction for deciding he had religious freedom.
Kristopher Casey’s congregation sang “God Bless America” following the Sunday service, which probably didn’t help them any.
“The Constitution and the Bill of Rights don’t go on vacation when there’s a pandemic. We are protected as a church, and yet the big box retailers are not protected and yet they are still open,” Casey told Fox News.
“The Bible tells us to forsake not the fellowship of one another together, and in Acts 5:29 it says, ‘I’d rather obey God than man.'”
“The treatment they’re giving us is not fair and that’s why I’m taking a stand.”
The church seats more than 300 and, while there weren’t numbers available on how many people decided to attend Sunday’s service at Adams Square Baptist, police counted more than 40 individuals leaving the building, according to WCVB. Because there’s an efficient use of police resources.
Not only that, but city officials were arrayed against him. (The city had previously warned him after he held a service the week prior.)
“We’re really, just disappointed, that quite frankly … he and the folks who attended those services would be themselves at jeopardy and put their community at jeopardy,” City Manager Ed Augustus told reporters at a news conference.
“This is real and real people are dying of COVID-19,” Mayor Joseph Petty said. “And they’re getting it from someone.”
In holding services last Sunday and the week prior, Casey violated Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people amid the current pandemic, despite the fact that Casey said Adams Street Baptist — described as a small, inner-city church — was following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines well enough that they were “well above reproach.”
And meanwhile, while “real people are dying of COVID-19,” Casey said he is getting real death threats for his decision to exercise his constitutional rights; he said others are claiming they hope he dies of coronavirus.
So what did the government eventually decided this serious, dire act deserved? A fine of $300.
“It is disappointing that despite all of the sound medical advice, and evidence of the effectiveness of limiting public gathering in curbing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, that this pastor has chosen to ignore that,” Augustus said in a statement Sunday, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. “In so doing, he is putting the health of his parishioners, and anyone they may come in direct contact with, at risk. As such, tomorrow the pastor will be presented with a $300 civil fine, which is in accordance with the fine allowed for a second violation of the Governor’s order.”
On one hand, one could say that this was an act of restraint. On the other hand, you could also say that city officials were perfectly well aware of how little of a problem this was.
Meanwhile, Casey also said he’s facing a $500 potential fine for a service he was planning to hold Wednesday.
“We’ll see if I get arrested or not on Sunday,” Casey said. “If we allow the government to shut down the light of Jesus Christ, America will go dark spiritually and we may never return.”
I’m not saying pastors ought to hold services during the coronavirus pandemic. Virtual services would be a better decision if at all feasible. That being said, for inner-city churches, they might not be feasible.
And the point of the matter is, these aren’t nonessential businesses we’re talking about.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” the First Amendment reads. That doesn’t change in times of pandemics.
Sure, you could argue the government has the ability to declare states of emergencies. Do you think the city’s response in this case was proportional?
At an inner-city church on Sunday, police counted 46 people leaving the building. There was a news conference about the fallout from it. And all of this was done with a congregation that seats 300 in its church.
What did it end with? A $300 fine.
You tell me whether this was about a legitimate concern about public health or about government flexing its muscles.
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