WASHINGTON, D.C., May 30, 2020—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, commented today on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to reject the request of a California church to block the state’s attendance limits on places of worship.
"I wish the Supreme Court had acted to bring more constitutional clarity to this pressing question. There is no dispute that the government has a compelling interest in restricting assemblies during times of pandemic, but several states, including Minnesota, California and Nevada, have pursued policies that are inconsistent, incoherent and not neutral toward religious gatherings as opposed to non-religious gatherings.
“Chief Justice Roberts is correct to say that a large gathering of people is not the same as a small business where people can socially distance one by one. And yet, in many states, that's not where the distinction is being made. In some places, casinos are open while houses of worship are not. That is not sound public policy, and it sets a bad precedent.
“States should set their policies according to the behaviors that can and cannot happen safely, the numbers of people that can be gathered, not on whether the assembly is a church or not a church, and they should apply those standards equally and neutrally. This pandemic is a perilous time. We need to emerge from it with both our public safety and our First Amendment intact. We can do that, but only if elected officials and the courts take seriously the matters both of public health and of constitutional freedoms.”