SF Archbishop Says New Coronavirus Church Closures Violate Religious Freedom

Bishop Michael Boulette prays as he leads a televised service to an empty church in San Antonio, Texas, Sunday, March 29, 2020. Due to the coronavirus outbreak churches in the area are closed and many are televising services or holding services online. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay/AP Photo

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said this weekend a new ban on worship violates a “a natural and a Constitutional right.”

Archbishop Cordileone objected to the state’s lumping together of religious worship with “non-essential indoor activities such as gyms, movie theaters, and museums” while arbitrarily allowing “for indoor retail at 25 percent capacity and permits massage parlors, hair and nail salons, and tattoo parlors to operate indoors.”

In his statement, the archbishop criticized a new health order from the state of California that places San Francisco and San Mateo Counties into a more restrictive “purple” tier of coronavirus restrictions, which unfairly denigrates the right to religious worship.

“This is precisely the kind of blatant discrimination to which the Supreme Court gave injunctive relief in New York,” Cordileone said, in reference to last Wednesday’s SCOTUS ruling barring the state from enforcing certain attendance limits at houses of worship.

Even in a pandemic, “the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the 5-4 decision. “The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”

The San Francisco archbishop insisted in his statement that for Catholic Christians, worship of God and the reception of the sacraments are “essential” activities.

“The government is demoting worship to the same status as watching a movie: ‘non-essential,’” Cordileone said. “But worship is both a natural and a Constitutional right. My people want to receive the Body and Blood of Christ; they need it, and have every right to be free to do so.”

Cordileone also insisted that his archdiocese has adhered scrupulously to measures mandated to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“Catholics in San Francisco are absolutely committed to public safety in conducting worship services,” he said. “Our protocols require masks, social distancing, sanitation and ventilation.”

“But the government still chooses to treat worship as less important than shopping for shoes,” he added.

While declaring that he is “deeply sympathetic to public health concerns about a surge in COVID hospitalizations,” the archbishop also noted that “we know of no cases of transmission of the virus as a result of in-person worship inside of our churches.”

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