Thursday, March 12, 2020

Some Louisville Religious Leaders Question Governor's Call For Halt To Services To Combat Coronavirus

In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, officials in various parts of the United States, as well as in a number of other countries, have encouraged or required cancellation of gatherings of large numbers of persons.  These have often specifically included a call for cancellation of religious services.  For the most part, churches and synagogues have cooperated with these government requests. However, the reaction yesterday of some religious leaders in Louisville, Kentucky to a request (full text) by Governor Andy Beshear raises in a new context a possible clash between government mandated health measures and religious rights.  The Louisville Courier Journal reports:
... [T]he request has caused confusion for congregations citywide, with some seeing it as an affront to their religions.
"Places that at one time seemed safe and sacred are now being called out as viral threats," the Interdenominational Ministerial Coalition said in a statement Wednesday. "The sanctity of church is needed during this uncertain time."....
The Rev. Stephen Smith adamantly said Portland Memorial Missionary Baptist Church will not cancel services for its 800 members. "You're not closing grocery stores, you're not closing gas stations, so no — we're not closing anything," Smith said.... 
"If we tried to shut the [Lenten] fish fry down we'd have a protest in the street," Smith said. "These people are going to come and get their fish; they're not thinking about a virus."...
... [T]he Archdiocese of Louisville.... issued a statement saying that it would not call for a cancellation of daily or weekend Masses.
"The Sunday celebration of the Eucharist is at the center of the life of the Church," the statement read. "Perhaps especially in difficult times, liturgical gatherings are a source of comfort and hope for the faithful, as well as an opportunity to offer our prayers to God for those who are suffering or who cannot be with us."
"At the same time, it is important – especially for those who are ill, feel vulnerable, or feel afraid – to be able to exercise individual discretion in light of this situation."