Mayor Bill de Blasio still hasn’t shut down the public parks in New York City, despite multiple complaints from the health officials. But he’s threatening to shut down some other facilities. Those would be the churches and synagogues who continue to hold services during the ban on gatherings of more than ten people. And if they continue to tend to their flocks in this fashion, he’s warning religious leaders that he may shutter the houses of worship “permanently.” (Washington Examiner)
“A small number of religious communities, specific churches and specific synagogues, are unfortunately not paying attention to this guidance even though it’s so widespread,” the New York Democrat said Friday at his daily press briefing.
“I want to say to all those who are preparing for the potential of religious services this weekend: If you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services,” he added.
De Blasio said that continued resistance of authorities to close religious services could mean a permanent shutdown.
In addition to threats of permanent closure, Hizzoner is also threatening to impose fines on the churches. I’m sure that’s just what they need when attendance (and likely tithing) is already down massively and they’re attempting to feed and clothe those who have lost their jobs.
On the surface, de Blasio’s frustration is understandable. While ensuring access to spiritual support is more important than ever at a time like this, the rules are the rules. And plenty of churches have taken their sermons online to remain in compliance. While you’re always entitled to hope for a miracle, I’m afraid that the virus can be spread inside of a church just as easily as a warehouse.
But it’s still interesting to see how selective the Mayor is in the targets he picks for “special treatment” in terms of enforcing his social distancing decrees. As I mentioned above, why threaten to close the synagogues when he still hasn’t closed the public parks? We’re seeing much larger crowds still clogging the parks than you’re likely to find in the average temple on any given Saturday.
If we really want to be obstinate about this, at least in terms of the limits of executive power during a state of emergency, one might also argue that there needs to be an exception carved out for houses of worship. Freedom of religion is found right in the First Amendment. Perhaps a strong but politely stated suggestion to simply space people out further in the pews would go over better with the faithful and their shepherds.
The last thing I’ll touch on here was de Blasio’s admonishment about potentially closing the buildings “permanently.” That’s hogwash. Or perhaps malarkey, if you’re feeling more Bidenesque. Sooner or later this virus will pass. When it does, the rules about not gathering in large groups will go out the window. And any elected official found trying to shutter churches and synagogues at that point will quickly find themselves on the losing end of a massive court case, if not run out of town on a rail.