Life and Religious Liberty for Me, But Not for Thee

With Amy Coney Barrett now on the Supreme Court and weighing in on cases, the payoff to the evangelical right for their unstinting support of Donald Trump becomes even clearer than it has already been.  She joined a narrow majority to block COVID-19 limits on church occupancy.  Despite numerous cases of COVID-19 outbreaks tied to church events (whether worship, choir practices, or other gatherings), despite over a quarter million Americans dead from COVID-19, the Supreme Court majority ignored the known science around how COVID-19 spreads because of “religious liberty”.  Much has been made of the fact that six of the nine justices on the Supreme Court are Catholic, but there were Catholic justices (including the Chief Justice) in the minority.  Even the Pope was critical of those protesting restrictions on church attendance.

As someone who felt compelled to quit my first full-time job out of college because of constant pressure from my employer to work on my day of worship (as a Seventh-day Adventist, my family and I typically attend church on Saturday), I am angry that religious liberty is being used as the pretext to invalidate measures intended to preserve public health.  When those measures (and stricter ones) have been applied elsewhere (parts of Europe, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, etc), we’ve seen them work successfully in slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19.  Particularly because the same Supreme Court was not at all concerned about religious liberty when it came to the Muslim travel ban (the Quakers, among others, see the hypocrisy clearly), the ruling seems especially hollow.  Plenty of churches (including my own) have stayed remote throughout the pandemic, either broadcasting services from empty sanctuaries except for themselves and musicians, or from home.  I’ve given offering and tithed online.  It is by no means an ideal experience, but given my own comorbidities it is better than risking my twins being orphaned.

Because Supreme Court confirmation fights (and the attendant press coverage) have focused so narrowly on where a nominee stands regarding Roe v. Wade, no attention has been paid to their stances regarding other issues quite relevant to life–and death. Invalidating restrictions on church occupancy during a pandemic is just one of the ways in which “pro-life” applies very poorly to describing where a justice actually stands.  As the clock runs out on the Trump presidency, the Department of Justice under Bill Barr is accelerating the pace of executions.  Barrett has already participated in her first capital punishment case on the Supreme Court.  She did not recuse herself, nor register her opposition to the execution going forward as justices in the minority did.

I suppose it has always been this way, but when a lot of people talk about religious liberty, they only want it for themselves–and no one else.