The US Attorney General has promised that action will be taken against officials who disproportionately sanction religious organisations during the coronavirus outbreak.
In past weeks, some senior public officials have targeted churches and synagogues in enforcing social distancing rules.
A spokeswoman said the Attorney General was monitoring government regulation of religious services to ensure it was “applied evenhandedly”.
Department of Justice
Last month, the Mayor of New York City threatened to “permanently” close down such buildings if they refused to obey the order banning large gatherings.
While social distancing policies are appropriate during this emergency, they must be applied evenhandedly & not single out religious orgs
Since then, the Mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, has prohibited drive-in services.
In response to the moves, Kerry Kupec from the Office of the Attorney General stated via Twitter that: “While social distancing policies are appropriate during this emergency, they must be applied evenhandedly & not single out religious orgs.”
She added that people could expect action from the Department of Justice in the near future.
‘Beyond public safety’
Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council and Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, criticised the New York Mayor’s comments.
He said the Mayor’s threat to permanently shut down churches and synagogues was “incendiary and unconstitutional” which he said “must be retracted or corrected if it was a misstatement”.
He suggested that such “religious hostility” could lead to non-compliance “because it reveals a motive beyond public safety”.
US evangelist Franklin Graham has urged church leaders to make sure they heed official advice.
We need to obey those in authority
He said: “We need to obey those in authority. That’s what the Bible teaches. I’d just encourage pastors across the country to obey those that are in authority. And I think that’s what the congregations would expect us to do”.
He added that “social distancing is wise”, and that churches were not being shut down, but temporarily being moved online.