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Lord, we pray that state officials would treat churches fairly. May they see us as partners — not problems — wishing to bless the communities where You have planted us.

The church calendar recently turned to Lent, and Easter is in sight. What is the outlook for in-person worship celebrating this holy season?

Well, after recent U.S. Supreme Court orders, at least it’s now unquestionably permissible in places where other lockdowns have been lifted. A powerful ruling came this month when the high court struck down California’s total ban on indoor religious services.

This was not the first time California churches had appealed their case to the Supreme Court. South Bay United Pentecostal Church near San Diego led a charge in May after the state’s reopening plans seemed to purposefully disfavor houses of worship. At that time the court declined to get involved.

This time was different.

South Bay along with Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena brought their challenge again and were now buttressed by lessons learned over the last 8 months. Many churches and Christians try to go above and beyond in care efforts to show love for their neighbors.

Some states took into account the place of houses of worship more quickly than others. Sadly, some required legal challenges to push them the right direction. But California — the home of nearly 40 million Americans — resisted. Even as other states changed course (voluntarily or not), the Golden State was determined to continue its zero-allowance mandate.

For several of the justices, this case was now a no-brainer. In a statement joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, Justice Neil Gorsuch declared, “When a State so obviously targets religion for differential treatment, our job becomes that much clearer.”

Gorsuch observed that unlike many religious freedom cases the court considers, this one involved no subtle infraction — not even close. He highlighted California’s more stringent requirements on houses of worship since the beginning of the pandemic. They even had their own row in the state’s COVID-19 guidelines!

Now, the justices aren’t ignoring the seriousness of COVID-19 and the suffering it has caused. Gorsuch and his colleagues don’t contest the “compelling interest” of the state battling the virus. What they have a problem with is the targeting of the faithful with more onerous restrictions. In contrast to the ongoing religious ban, Gorsuch noted, “California no longer asks its movie studios, malls, and manicurists to wait.”

He further declared:

Government actors have been moving the goalposts on pandemic-related sacrifices for months, adopting new benchmarks that always seem to put restoration of liberty just around the corner. As this crisis enters its second year — and hovers over a second Lent, a second Passover, and a second Ramadan — it is too late for the State to defend extreme measures with claims of temporary exigency, if it ever could.

Ultimately, while the majority of justices were not yet willing to strike down California’s indoor singing restrictions and generally applicable attendance caps, the court ruled 6-3 to strike down the total ban restricting indoor activities at houses of worship.

Justice Elena Kagan led the dissenting trio, who claimed churches were not being treated unfairly compared to similar types of gatherings. She worried about standing in the way of efforts to fight the pandemic and found it “alarming that the Court second-guesses the judgments of expert officials, and displaces their conclusions with its own.”

Indirectly responding, Chief Justice John Roberts re-stated his desire to show deference to public health leaders. But, he said, the total ban “appears to reflect not expertise or discretion, but instead insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake.”

Roberts concluded, “Deference, though broad, has its limits.”

The pandemic is serious and our officials should confront it. However, religious discrimination is illegal. It’s really that simple.

May we pray that state agents not see churches as problems to restrain. Rather, may they come to value us as faithful partners in efforts to bring healing and hope to individuals and communities in this difficult time.

And let’s pray for the light and life of Christ to permeate powerfully in our land this Easter!

Aaron Mercer is a Contributing Writer with two decades of experience in Washington, D.C.s public policy arena. He reflects on faith, technology, and the public square at (Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash)

How will you pray for churches and their communities in the COVID-19 pandemic?

1584 People Prayed
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  1. I’m a Californian and even though the CA Supreme Court sided with the lawsuit, most of the state is still operating in a lockdown system (colored tiers) which means it’s also being monitored by county health officials. The county I live in just got moved into the RED tier, which means churches can have 25% indoors. The church I attend is very large, and they are not opening up yet; offering 1 outdoor service starting on 3/28 (Palm Sunday) on their lawn (will hold perhaps 75, reservations required)
    I’m going to check around and see if other churches in my area are open yet….

    Prayer: Father God, oh how we need Your guidance and help during these times. May Your wisdom and discernment fall upon those who have been given authority. May their eyes be opened to see Your Heart’s desire for Your children. May the Living Word also guide, teach, encourage us as we wait. Thank you for Your Love, Hope, Peace, Grace, Faithfulness; Your Will be done. In Jesus Name, Amen.

    Amen! 10
  2. Unfortunately most Christians are miss led into believing in separation of church and state and must anything else that demands action.
    We are responsible in the Bible, the Ten Commandment, Prayer being taken out if the schools what people and especially the you people and children need to know is that there is someone who LOVE THEM more than anything and that’s God through Christ. you can put Roe v Wade.
    Where was and is the church??
    We need to pray for spiritual leaders.
    God’s Church needs to rise.

    Amen! 11
  3. Lord, we have established our justice system based on biblical concepts of Justice. You are the Great Judge, and you uphold truth and justice. We ask God that you would help us to raise up Judges that take seriously their oaths and requirements of law.
    We have seen too much injustice in our nation, and judges that are actively working to change our justice system. Be merciful and hear our cries for justice and answer quickly our prayers.
    Don’t allow our nation to be overcome by men and women who hold to evil practices. Justice is turned back in the streets. Let your Holy Spirit fill us with the means to overcome this evil. In Jesus Name. Amen.

    Amen! 8
  4. If we the church and our pastors do not stand for truth and make our voices heard now, what will we do if the Equality Act passes? The flooding of the Jordan is near, the horses have begun to run, and the day of trouble is here. God, have mercy on us Your church and open our eyes,help us find our courage and teach us to stand.

    Amen! 15
  5. The cross&the tomb are empty. Easter is where we meet not in a building. We are the body of the RISEN Christ. Nothing can stop us or that.Gather in parks or homes to celebrate. Death is defeated by our RISEN Lord!

    Amen! 17
  6. May we once again gather together to worship Our God in spirit and in truth as the Easter season comes to an end. In the Book of Acts, it was the habit of the Church to gather together and the power of God moved. We need you O God to descend upon Your Church revive us, encourage us, strength us as we move forward in uncertain times, but knowing the power of God is with His people.

    Amen! 14
  7. As the church of Jesus Christ, we need fellowship with one another. Also, God has placed us within our communities to serve and make a difference. When we’re not allowed to meet together that affects not only the church, but it impacts the community as a whole by withholding much needed help to people in our communities. I pray that gov leaders will be more impassioned to do what best benifits the people they serve and not allow personal bias to get in the way.

    Amen! 13
  8. Unfortunately, the clergy are as much or more to blame than the State, concurring (with their actions to close down/unduly restrict gatherings) that one’s duty to worship God is not essential, whereas buying liquor or getting an abortion are essential.

    Amen! 16

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