Religious Liberty in COVID-19’s Wake

Mark L. Movsesian, St. John's University School of Law

Originally published at:



The COVID-19 epidemic has reordered Americans’ priorities, including with respect to religious freedom. Debates about whether believers may receive exemptions from anti-discrimination laws continue, of course, and the Supreme Court will issue a ruling any day now on the permissibility of public funding for private religious schools. But in the spring of 2020, the religious freedom issue drawing the most attention in America is this: can the government restrict congregational worship in order to curb the coronavirus epidemic?

In the past few weeks, a handful of churches—almost all of them Evangelical—have filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of state and local bans on religious gatherings. More lawsuits will likely follow in the weeks ahead, for reasons I will explain. The inconsistent results in these cases reflect the uncertain state of the law with respect to religious exemptions. The challenges also reveal something interesting, and puzzling, about the churches that are bringing the lawsuits.