By Brent W. Yessin, J.D.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. – US Constitution
Could you be arrested for going to church? Yes, in China.
The Regulations of Religious Affairs Act requires churches to register with the state, and even if your “Religious Activity Center” is registered, you still can be “dealt with” by “on-site disposing and punishment” (sounds awful) if the state decides your religious activity “harms public safety [or] hurts social order.”
Does Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear think this should happen in America? His tone during the COVID-19 briefings grew more intimidating as he sought to keep Kentuckians from attending worship services by threatening to send health officials to private homes and state police troopers to scan licenses in church parking lots.
Beshear says it isn’t “fair” for Kentuckians to attend church services while other groups restrict activities for public safety. His talk sounds dangerously close to claims you might hear in China like Easter at the “Religious Activity Center… hurts social order.”
Outrageous? Yes, both for its statist overreach and its audacity in the assumption that the public would accept it.
State action infringing on fundamental constitutional rights – real rights, not pretend rights writ in invisible ink in the penumbra of that guiding document – must be narrowly tailored to a “compelling state interest” and crafted in the “least restrictive means” possible. Beshear’s actions don’t meet that criteria.
The same people who howl about a facially-neutral ban on immigration from a handful of countries known to be failed states with terror bases defend this liberal governor’s policy based in COVID-19 consternation because the targets are Christians – the one religion the Left considers acceptable to bully, what with its “unscientific” beliefs and “superstitions.”
It’s all very unconstitutional. The real question is: will anyone care enough to stop Beshear from continuing his political assault on your most fundamental rights – to pray, speak and peaceably assemble? The Republican legislature could – and must – serve as more of a check and balance against this executive abuse on some of our most basic constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court is adamant about protecting religious freedom. It even found the unsavory practice of animal sacrifices by Santeria adherents in Florida, and the right of Muslims to wear a one-half-inch beard in prison to be constitutionally protected. The latter case, Holt v. Hobbs, is especially instructive.
SCOTUS ruled that while public safety in the prison was compelling, the state didn’t prove it used the least-restrictive means to achieve it. They noted exceptions for one-fourth-inch beards for people with skin problems, or hair on your head allowed to be an inch long.
Perhaps most important and relevant for the issue at hand in Kentucky, the high court found while some Muslims don’t agree with Holt that you must have facial hair, what mattered was not their faith, but his.
Beshear pontificates through both his comments and rulings that grocers, carpenters, lawyers, liquor stores and even abortion clinics are essential, but clergy and churches are not.
Yet the fact that many Christians and pastors in Kentucky spent Easter at home doesn’t mean they were required to do so. Our founders agreed with Holt: what matters isn’t someone else’s – even the governor’s – view on faith, but yours.
Kentuckians likely will be on the hook for damages in legal cases where the governor issues overreaching orders, and the courts would consider them civil-rights actions where unlawful acts are official policy.
The real cost is not lawsuits, however, but the loss of our most important rights and, as every good statist knows, what was clearly stated in “The ABC of Communism,” a guidebook for the Communist Party USSR: “the mere fact of the organisation and strengthening of the socialist system, will deal religion an irrecoverable blow.”
That treatise also predicted “…the transition from the society which makes an end of capitalism to the society which is completely freed from all traces of class division and class struggle, will bring about the natural death of all religion and all superstition.”
Are we going to allow Beshear, who’s become a hero to the Left in his national audition, to ignore the Constitution – especially in a state like Kentucky, where church is still at the center of multitudes of faith-filled people from Paducah to Pikeville?
If this governor is willing to allow the State to take precedence over faith in Kentucky – where faith-filled congregants can be found filling the pews and singing the hymns Sunday mornings in steeple-adorned churches throughout the Commonwealth – perhaps he should find a different line of work.
Brent Yessin attended Vanderbilt University Law School and is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Yessin & Associates, LLC, with offices in Florida, Kentucky and the UK. He focuses his career on helping to enhance job opportunities and employment rights for American workers.