Most Americans oppose religious exemptions from COVID-19 lockdown restrictions: Pew

Upsplash/Haley Rivera

Most Americans oppose giving houses of worship religious exemptions from COVID-19 lockdown regulations, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center.

In findings released Friday, Pew found that 79% of respondents said religious institutions should be subject to the same social distancing guidelines as secular businesses and entities.

Respondents who identified as evangelical Protestant were more likely to support giving houses of worship more flexibility, nevertheless 62% of them also opposed exemptions.

Pew found a partisan divide, with 93% of Democrat and Democrat-leaning respondents opposing exemptions versus 65% of Republican and Republican-leaning respondents agreeing.

Pew based its findings off a survey taken July 13-19 among 10,211 adults in the United States, with a margin of error for the full sample being plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.

The survey also found that evangelical Protestants were less likely to believe that their churches should remain closed during the pandemic compared to other religious groups.

Eighteen percent of evangelical respondents said their churches should be closed, versus 27% of Catholics, 40% of mainline Protestants, and 41% of black Protestants.

“… amid reports that some clusters of the virus have been tied to religious gatherings, many Americans who regularly attend religious services express support for instituting a variety of restrictions and modifications at their own places of worship,” explained Pew.

“At the time the survey was conducted (July 13-19), only 13% said their house of worship should be open to the public just as it was before the outbreak.”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many congregations in the U.S. opted to cancel in-person worship services and other gatherings.

However, some churches have argued that state orders demanding that they halt in-person gatherings and remain closed are unconstitutional and treat them unfairly compared to secular organizations.

For example, a church recently sued Nevada over a state order that required it to limit in-door service attendance numbers to 50 people while allowing casinos to have 50% capacity. 

The church wanted to hold services for up to 90 members, 50% capacity, while fully complying with social-distancing rules and other required measures, but was denied. 

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court decided without comment to refuse to hear an appeal from the church, allowing the state order to remain in force.

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear’s church, The Summit Church of Durham, North Carolina, recently decided to cancel in-person worship services for the rest of the year. Instead, members will be gathering in small groups at people's homes. 

In an interview with The Christian Post published Tuesday, Greear explained that his church wanted to follow “state guidelines to inform our decisions in order to protect our congregation and the public at large.”

“The message we seek to send to our congregation and to our community is that, even when we are unable to gather as a large church on the weekend, the Summit Church is not 'closed' because the church exists everywhere the members of the church live,” said Greear.

“Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love God with all of our being. He commanded us to make disciples.”

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