Touting his state’s record of going through the coronavirus pandemic without having to impose restrictions on religious gatherings, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves insisted that religious freedom should never be “infringed” because “God is bigger than government.”
“With all the things we can be thankful for in this season, I am especially grateful for our God-given religious liberty. That right was upheld by the United States Supreme Court last week—blocking the New York restriction on worship gatherings. Throughout this pandemic, Mississippi has never restricted religious gathering and worship. We made that clear in our court filings. God is bigger than government. The right to freely practice your faith must never be infringed,” the Republican leader wrote in a post-Thanksgiving message on Facebook Monday.
Reeves’ comment comes in the wake of last Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Catholic diocese and an Orthodox Jewish group, temporarily blocking New York’s COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship.
“Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten," the high court said in its 5-4 ruling. "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.”
Mississippi is facing an uptick in COVID-19 cases. On Monday, the state reported 1,008 hospitalizations — the first time the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 topped 1,000 since the first coronavirus cases were reported in Mississippi in March, the Clarion Ledger reported.
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said that "we are stressing out the healthcare system. Hospitalizations are hitting their peak. We have 12 major hospitals [that] have zero ICU beds."
While not placing any restrictions on religious gatherings, Reeves has been urging residents to avoid large social gatherings and wear masks. As of Tuesday, residents in 54 of the state’s 82 counties are required to wear masks in certain circumstances.
“This is a dangerous time. We all need to adjust our behavior accordingly," Reeves, who recently emerged from two weeks of quarantining with his family after the youngest of his three daughters tested positive for the coronavirus, noted at a press conference.
"We know that wearing masks works. We know that wearing masks helps prevent the transmission of the virus. We know that avoiding large social gatherings helps.”
State officials have been pushing Reeves to impose a statewide mask mandate but he argued that trying to order a statewide mask mandate is akin to ordering hurricanes to no longer hit Mississippi.
"It just doesn't work that way," Reeves said, noting that his approach is more convincing to skeptical Mississippians.