Coronavirus and Religious Exception

2 Timothy 1:7 declares that “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

I agree with Jesuit priest James Martin’s position that quarantine, suspension of mass and social distancing are self-sacrificial acts of charity and love of others. But I slso agree with Pope Francis that it is wrong for government to thwart access to the sacrements.

Here in America, however, we have a supremely powerful First-Amendment. Of all Constitutional amendments, our founders thought it to be the most necessary—even more necessary than prohibitions of cruel and unusual punishments. Religion and speech proceed hand-in-glove, for how can one practice religion without also being able to speak of such religion in the exercise and apologetics thereof? The First Amendment, therefore, is the very thing that carves out exceptions to public law and public policy for denominations and assemblies such as Amish and Jehovah’s Witnesses. While it might be hard to perceive from the outside why adherents would eschew vaccinations which we as a society believe to be safe and necessary, it is nevertheless necessary to recognize that their beliefs do not directly harm us if we ourselves vaccinate in accordance with our policies. In other words, if we vaccinate ourselves against measles, we have no basis to fear measles infection from an unvaccinated person.

Faith is both a practice and an exercise. One practices faith by attending religious services, but one exercises faith by exalting God’s omnipotence above mankind’s limited understanding. As much as wearing a mask is an act of charity, wearing a mask is just as easily an act of cowardice. When all is said and done, I come down on the side of civil liberty that the burden lies with individual responsibility rather than with social duty. For me, refusing a mask declares my reliance on God to protect me from disease and pestilence. And if I am protected—by virtue of the immune system which God gave to mankind, by virtue of my stewardship in maintaining a healthy body, and by virtue of God’s sovereign hand—then it also follows that I cannot spread disease to others. Wearing a mask is a self-defeating act which weakens my faith and makes me psychosomatically more vulnerable to disease. Moreover, refusing a mask is both an evangelistic statement as much as an invitation to speak of my faith when asked about my unmasked visage.

One Reply to “Coronavirus and Religious Exception”

  1. I would now also add that any state or local government which takes the position that faith is insufficient, that faith must be secondary to “expert opinions,” or that faith alone is insufficient—that very government expresses a religious or agnostic or athiest edict in violation of the First Amendment.

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