House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) raised concerns that restrictions put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic are infringing on Americans’ religious freedom.
In a letter sent to President Trump, Vice President Pence and Attorney General William Barr on Saturday, the lawmakers said they understand the reason behind social distancing practices put in place, but they feel with the right precautions, people should not be restricted from gathering at places of worship.
“We write to you out of great concern for the right to religious freedom enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, governors and local leaders around the country have issued orders of varying restrictions on their communities to slow the spread of the virus,” they wrote.
“Calling on individuals to have greater awareness of their environments, keep reasonable distance from others, and strive to maintain better hygiene may all be warranted as we continue to confront the many unknowns of this virus. Prohibitions on worship have no place in these restrictions.”
The lawmakers underscored that some of these precautions are impinging on people’s First Amendment rights.
“Members of many faiths are called upon to gather in community to worship. The First Amendment protects their right to do so. Sadly, many leaders around the country have taken this pandemic as an opportunity to deem worship gatherings non-essential,” they continued.
“In fact, recent reports indicate the Governor of Kentucky will be tracking the license plates of any individuals attending Easter services and subsequently forcing them to quarantine for fourteen days. There is no place for this behavior in America.”
Biggs and Hice argued that if social distancing is practiced, it is not any riskier than individuals going to what has been deemed an essential business.
“Every American is free to decide whether to risk gathering in order to worship their God. Every house of worship should be given the opportunity to establish safe social distancing practices that minimize the risk of attending. It is impossible to argue that attending a worship service is any riskier than visiting the grocery store, and yet community worship is just as essential for many faiths as access to food,” the letter read.
The letter comes as several states have placed restrictions on Easter gatherings. A legal battle over restrictions on religious gatherings has already reached the Supreme Court in Kansas, and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) announced recently that the license plates of those attending religious services would be recorded and would be forced to self-quarantine for 14 days.