In response to the global public health crisis posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, federal, state and local governments are ramping up social distancing practices and directives, including the closing of nonessential businesses, schools, and venues that typically attract large gatherings. State and local enactments have varied as to whether, and to what extent, they afford an exemption to houses of worship. Regardless, most religious congregations have suspended congregational services, often moving to digital communication, such as live streaming of services, as an alternative; many did so even in the absence of state or local government directives calling for suspension of large gatherings, while others have followed suit once those directives were forthcoming.
What, then, are the religious liberty implications of the pandemic-related restrictions on assembling for religious purposes? And what other questions are presented by responses to the pandemic, both in terms of impact on religious organizations and as they relate to other church-state concerns?
Webinar topics include:
- What is the doctrinal framework for analyzing restrictions on religious gatherings?
- What other sorts of religious activities may be subject to restriction? Live streaming of worship services? Door to door evangelism?
- Are there religious activities that should be exempted from restrictions, even when similar sectarian activities are not exempted?
- How are religious social service organizations impacted by the restrictions?
- May congregations that meet in defiance of restrictions be held liable for personal injuries if someone in attendance becomes sick or dies?
- Can religious bodies that suffer economic loss be able to receive government funded “social insurance” on the same terms as secular institutions without violating the Establishment Clause? Conversely, would denial of those funds amount to a Free Exercise Clause violation?