By Aaron Earls
Once the coronavirus quarantines end, if given a choice as to what should be reopened immediately, Americans want small group in homes and religious gatherings at the top of the list.
A new poll on reopening society from pollster Scott Rasmussen gave registered U.S. voters a list of activities and asked if they should be opened immediately after the shutdown ends or should be given second or third priority.
Half of registered voters say that allowing people to gather in small groups at someone’s home should happen right away after quarantines are lifted.
More than a third (35%) say churches and other religious gatherings should be a top priority to reopen immediately. The same percentage (35%) say re-opening retail stores should happen right away.
Fewer say the same about schools (31%), bars and restaurants (21%), and major league sports events and stadium concerts (14%).
Despite being at the top of the list for what people want to do first, according to the Deseret News, small groups and religious gatherings haven’t “gotten much attention in recent debates over how and when to reopen society. Most policymakers are more focused on getting workers back to their offices than improving people’s social lives.”
For their part, the U.S. Justice Department issued a statement intended to clarify the government’s authority to curb public gatherings, while also acknowledging the First Amendment rights of religious groups.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr said that in times of such as this, the U.S. Constitution does allow “some temporary restriction on our liberties that would not be tolerated in normal circumstances.”
Barr did affirm, however, that churches and other religious groups cannot be singled out by the government.
He wrote, “[T]he First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers. Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity.”
The attorney general also specifically noted the Justice Department’s support of Temple Baptist Church in their dispute with the city of Greenville, Miss.
Police issued $500 fines to individuals who attended a drive-in church service, despite attendees staying in their car and listening to a sermon through the radio, according to their lawsuit.
According to NBC News, this is the first defense of a church by the Justice Department during the pandemic. They have previously declined to offer statements of support for megachurches continuing to hold large in-person gatherings indoors.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.