An article published here at Orange County Breeze recently gave details about SB 397, the “Religion is Essential Act.” The bill is sponsored by State Senator Brian Jones (R-District 38).
A reader responded to that article in this fashion:
If he believes that his faith carries him then let it carry him and his adherents without endangering others.
If he believes that his god is all powerful and omnipresent then allow his god to support him anywhere and everywhere during this time when social distancing and wearing of masks and avoiding congregating is to be advised.
If not, then Brian is not worthy of his god, his faith and his congregation. I cannot speak for his god.
My first thought was that SB 397 should be unneeded because freedom of worship is Constitutionally protected. After further thought, I now believe that SB 397 should not move forward because it accepts the reframing of religious activities. Instead of the question being asked as Is the activity Constitutionally protected? the question becomes Is the activity essential? That is destructive of liberty because the definition of essential depends on the whims of a single individual — Gavin Newsom. This reframing should be squashed like a bug.
But the reader’s comment drips with contempt toward those who seek to maintain their Constitutionally-protected freedom to worship. He appears to assume that of course religiously observant people will act irresponsibly so the decision on how to handle pandemic restrictions should not be left in their hands.
I am not here arguing against “basic safety precautions.” I am arguing against imposing “basic safety precautions” on Constitutionally-protected activities through executive order and thereby overstepping Constitutional bounds.
A counterfactual thought experiment
Let us cast ourselves back almost a year, as California Governor Gavin Newsom looks over the grim data presented to him regarding COVID-19. A particular cluster of cases seems to show that a religious choral practice served as a “superspreader” event. What can he do, within Constitutional bounds, to avoid similar events on any given Friday, Saturday, or Sunday?
(I will talk only about Catholic organization here because that is what I am most familiar with. As a Catholic, Governor Newsom should also be familiar with the hierarchical organization of the Catholic Church. Other faith traditions have associations through which to spread news. I just don’t know the details.)
The Bishops’ executive committee drafts an emergency email to the ordinaries (bishops, archbishops, cardinals) of all the dioceses of California, explaining the grave challenges facing the faithful and instructing each ordinary to come up with an immediate plan of action based on current knowledge, and methods for modifying that plan as more information becomes available.
Each ordinary, with the help of his diocesan advisors, devises an overall plan to fit the requirements of his diocese with ways for each parish to make adaptations according to local peculiarities. The first wobbly version is in place for the next weekend, with an explanation in the parish bulletin and from the pulpit. More details are filled in as time and further knowledge of the virus allow.
This scenario requires humility and trust, virtues not in overabundance in Gavin Newsom’s administration of California. Mr. Newsom is not alone in his misgovernance of the State of California. On that point, I am gravely disappointed with the Democrat-dominated California State Legislature, which seems content to pass everything except a resolution stripping Governor Newsom of his emergency powers.