A megachurch pastor is exhorting and organizing his fellow clergymen to defy government shutdown orders and reopen their houses of worship in time for Memorial Day weekend.
Brian Gibson, the pastor of HIS Church with congregations in Kentucky and Texas, makes a strong case, based on both the Constitution and common sense.
“I believe that Jesus is a lamb, but he’s also a lion,” he said in a video regarding his PeaceablyGather.com movement posted to YouTube on May 8. “You’ve got to decide when to be the lamb and when to be the lion. Wisdom makes that decision.
“Right now America needs some lions to stand up and roar. America needs some lions to stand up and roar for the Constitution. Needs some lions to stand up and roar for religious freedom. Needs some lions to stand up and roar for people of worship of every type in this great nation.”
“Peaceably gather” is clearly a reference to the First Amendment, which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Gibson’s call for pastors to stand for freedom was motivated by a run-in his Owensboro, Kentucky, congregation had with local law enforcement when church members sought to have a drive-thru Easter service for kids in which each would receive a plastic Easter egg with candies inside.
Local health officials closed the event as a violation of the state’s COVID-19 shutdown order.
The McDonald’s across the street remained open serving drive-thru food and the nearby Starbucks, lattes and cappuccinos, but trying to bring joy to some children, following the same safety guidelines, was impermissible.
Gibson found this unacceptable. Now he is championing the cause of in-person services restarting nationwide.
He noted in a Fox News interview on Monday that government officials allow people to gather at big-box retail stores in large numbers but forbid citizens wishing to exercise their First Amendment right to worship while practicing social distancing.
“I promise you our church services are safer than what you see at Lowe’s and they’re safer than what you see at your Walmart,” the preacher told Fox News host Harris Faulkner.
“This weekend, we’ll celebrate Memorial Day,” he continued. “Veterans laid down their lives for this right. They’re going to stand with us this weekend, combat, wounded veterans, saying, ‘Don’t let the rights I’ve fought for fall during this hour.'”
Congregations in Kentucky and other states have been winning lawsuits against overbearing state actions directed against them.
On Easter Sunday, Kentucky State Police showed up at the drive-in service of Maryville Baptist Church in Louisville and informed those in attendance that they were in violation of the state’s COVID shutdown and would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s policy seemed to single out faith-based organizations.
“We don’t doubt the Governor’s sincerity in trying to do his level best to lessen the spread of the virus or his authority to protect the Commonwealth’s citizens,” the order from the court reads.
“But restrictions inexplicably applied to one group and exempted from another do little to further these goals and do much to burden religious freedom,” the judges continued.
“Assuming all of the same precautions are taken, why is it safe to wait in a car for a liquor store to open but dangerous to wait in a car to hear morning prayers? Why can someone safely walk down a grocery store aisle but not a pew?” if the same social distancing protocols are followed.
The judges concluded, “The Commonwealth has no good answers.”
Gibson defied that order and held services this past weekend as an act of civil disobedience, he told Fox News.
Meanwhile, in Illinois last week, a federal district court upheld Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s order banning public gatherings as applied to churches.
The governor has put in place a five-phase reopening plan that does not allow large gatherings, including churches, until a vaccine or highly effective treatment is available — which could take a year or more.
Judge Robert Gettleman, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, wrote the members of the Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Logos Baptist Ministries were “selfish” for seeking to defy the governor’s order.
“An injunction [against enforcing Pritzker’s order] would risk the lives of plaintiffs’ congregants, as well as the lives of their family members, friends, co-workers and other members of their communities with whom they come in contact,” the ruling said.
In short, Gettleman wrote, “Their interest in communal services cannot and does not outweigh the health and safety of the public.”
Interestingly, both Thomas Jefferson (author of the Declaration of Independence) and James Madison (“father of the Constitution” and author of the Bill of Rights) argued that freedom of religion is a God-given right that no government can legitimately take away.
Madison wrote in his famous essay Memorial and Remonstrance, “Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can only be dictated by reason and conviction and the conscience of every man. …
“This right is in its nature an unalienable right. … It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him.”
Gibson predicted that many congregations throughout the U.S. will exercise that right in person, with or without the government’s approval.
“Come Pentecost Sunday” — May 31 — “I believe there will be thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of churches defying governors’ orders in a safe, smart way,” he told Fox News.
Gibson is right: By then, many Christians will be ready for a good old Holy Ghost-infused gathering of the faithful.
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