Covid-19 and religious freedom?

This is a comment and reflection on David Bednar’s speech on corona and religious freedom, to be viewed at
Of course religious freedom is an important value in human civilization, and, yes, of course it has to be defended, David Bednar, of the Twelve, was completely right in taking up that issue, especially in the week devoted to that principle. The United States were founded on it, and the first colonists—after the Amerindians and some loads of ‘boat refugees’ from the Middle East—fled Europe just because the lack of it. Bednar’s recent discourse on TV was a warm-but-stern plea for keeping a watchful eye on anything that would impinge on that freedom.
No problem. My issue here is the link with covid-19. Bednar was, seemingly, shocked by the pervasive effects of the government measures against the virus, i.e. the lockdown. With just a few executive governmental measures he saw all church meetings disappear, the April General Conference trim down to a video-happening and thought the Church under attack, at least its basic freedom severely curtailed. His reasoning is that we are a church of gathering, and that is what is no longer possible, so our rights to worship according to our faith seem to be very fragile. Well, the nation of gathering has long disappeared from our discourse, and at the time—about a century ago—it meant something quite different from having umpteen ward meetings; if so, all churches would be ‘into gathering’. Anyway, the apostle did tread the line between support of the legitimate political authorities and freedom of worship carefully, just keeping clear of outright criticism of the measures to curb the virus. Just.

Is, indeed, the USA governmental reaction a threat to our religion? First, from the European viewpoint, the USA measures were late, hesitant and half-hearted, the central administration first denying the issue, then blaming a scape goat (China) and finally handing over the burden to the state governors; the latter did a better job than Washington, but were handicapped by a late start and lack of national coordination. The result is known: the pandemic rages in the USA more than anywhere else, at this moment, the chaotic central handling has cost many lives. Bednar was shocked by the impact of the measures, while he should have been shocked at the lack of good governance in the US.

Second: against religion? All social events were touched, sports, cultural performances, political gatherings, many professions and jobs disappeared, hospitals were overcrowded, and, yes, also churches had to stop their meetings. Is the injunction against church gatherings any different from that against any other type of gathering? I doubt it, since all are essential or a good functioning society, while any of them will define themselves as crucial. Other rights and freedoms are just as lawful: to have a job, to express oneself freely, to have access to good care and to decide over one’s own future. A government should not privilege one religion over any other, so has to consider all religions as part and parcel of the national fabric, together with other, non-religious, institutions. Governments are not for salvation, but for muddling along with some success here on earth. So the attack on religion is not there, ‘we’ are not the target, just collateral damage. Actually, the history of the virus shows that church services are very conducive to spread the virus.

What Bednar complains about is not right to religion but right to one particular form of worship, i.e. by gathering, being together, singing together (dangerous!), taking the Sacrament together (tricky!). The right to have a particular ritual form is not the same as the right to religious freedom. We still can worship, but we have to adapt. And we do have the tools: with a widely distributed priesthood—quite unique in Christendom—the Sacrament on Sunday is within easy reach for most, we can receive uplifting sermons and lessons through the internet, we can administer to each other by phone and WhatsAp, we can pray, fast and testify, our religious freedom is not under threat, we just have to be flexible in our rituals.

Religious freedom entails the right to worship and to live according to one’s conscience, the operative word is ‘to live’, and that is what the governmental measures aim at: to keep as many people alive as possible, exactly the job they have to do. So covid-19 has very little to do with our freedom of religion, the context for the talk was ill chosen. But so were both the sympathetic little film on covid-19 as a turning point in human history, and the parable of the prodigal son: both had hardly any bearing on Bednar’s message. Both, in fact, could have been the trigger for a message that would have been much more apt and needed, one of comfort, one of compassion with victims, one of strengthening the members in hard times, one of inspiration for people suffering from the virus and from the protective measures, messages which we need so dearly. I am looking forward to that talk and knowing Bednar as an able and compassionate speaker, I am fully confident that he can do that.

Walter van Beek

34 comments for “Covid-19 and religious freedom?

  1. What was puzzling to me about Elder Bednar’s comments was that government did not shut down LDS services, the church did, decisively before government had taken any action. The church has been far more restrictive (very appropriately!) than the government.

  2. In my opinion, the federal government didn’t “hand the burden” of managing the pandemic to state governments…that is the job of state governments. In the US, states are sovereign entities. From the “US State” wiki article:

    “A state, unlike the federal government, has un-enumerated police power, that is the right to generally make all necessary laws for the welfare of its people.”

    That power has been diminished over the years, with the federal government taking on more of a centralized role. But ultimately, it is the responsibility of each state to dictate how they will respond to events such as the corona virus, protests, etc. When Trump has the audacity to suggest federal intervention during both of these events, he was met with scorn and resistance by several state governments.

    I wish my state government would wise-up and shut our borders. We almost had the virus eradicated, until people realized how low the virus count was here.

  3. I haven’t read Elder Bednar’s talk, but I do think the OP fails to notice or engage the issue that most religious freedom critics of the restrictions have raised. The premise of the OP is that churches were treated just like other associations and activities. But that is precisely the point that most critics have challenged. Restrictions have been different for different matters and activities, and (though this will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction) churches have often been subjected to more restrictive limits. And then there is the matter of the protests, which (justifiably or not) have blatantly violated “social distancing” prescriptions, often with the blessing of governmental authorities. In NYC, Mayor de Blasio justified this differential treatment by saying that protesting racial injustice was simply more important than religious services. So there are a lot of complications and debatable questions here that the OP doesn’t acknowledge.

  4. I agree about the parable and the “gathering” rhetoric. Both seemed like a bit of a stretch as a basis for this message, although the message was good in its essentials. As far as the COVID link, Elder Bednar’s example about last rites was more compelling than those about Latter-day Saint baptisms being curtailed, mostly because of what E said. Anyone trying to hold a baptismal service would have been violating church policy as well as any local restrictions.

    What I’m not sure about is the claim that religious freedom is unimpaired by being made to adapt. It was obviously the right thing for religious groups to adapt to this crisis in the ways we’ve seen, but the question some people have raised is whether it was right to force that adaptation through government action. I think this is the question at the heart of religious freedom objections to the pandemic handling. Of course, it’s equally obvious that we can’t count on many religious groups to do what is right in this situation for any length of time. Witness how quickly some people went from “let’s all protect one another” to “give me liberty and give me death.”

  5. SDS: Go read Bednar’s talk, and then I’ll read the rest of your comment. [wink]

    Bednar is obviously having a hard time containing his crankiness here. Walter’s discussion of this talk is very apt.

  6. The issue here is a double standard for religious services, which does infringe on religious liberty. According to my understanding, some places such as California were opening up malls and other services with church-like ability to act as disease vectors (for example, see, while insisting that worship services remain closed, and this does present a discriminatory double standard. I don’t think Bednar was arguing against any and all worship service restrictions since, as noted above, the Church adopted these restrictions voluntarily before they would have been forced to. I also thought this point about last rites was particularly poignant. For Catholics that ritual is quite important, and performing it presents minimal risk in terms of disease transmission, so yes, having those restricted does make me nervous from a religious liberty perspective.

  7. People who already dislike Elder Bednar to one degree or another will over-read his words. People who are zealous on covid response, one way or another will over-read his words.

    It’s clear what he’s saying is that religion should not be under privileged compared to other things. You all realize people are still buying tickets and flying on airplanes? Getting on mass transit?

    If you do not believe a church building limited to 30-99 people with over 6′ distance between people in masks, etc. is safer than the above activities then you are simply mistaken.

    He didn’t say this is all a sham. He didn’t say this isn’t serious. He said the the same practical workarounds can be performed at church gatherings and they shouldn’t be restricted legally any more so than other reasonable, protected activities. It’s fine if the churches want to shut down. But they shouldn’t have to ask for permission to follow government guidelines.

    Going to church for 38 minutes once a month, with doors wide open, people spaced out with every third row to themselves and medically vulnerable discouraged from attending is not more dangerous than shopping the produce aisle. You might think the produce aisle is more essential. But the constitution doesn’t make that distinction.

    The Bill of Rights, remember is not the list of all freedoms we have. It’s the ones the founders thought necessary to enshrine because they saw the potential for them to be violated. And here we are.

    Now, our European brothers and sisters might have different thoughts on the Constitution, but the principles of religious freedom and assembly are universal principles, whether or not they are accept. And the church should speak out on them if they are concerned where things are headed.

  8. I echo scranney’s point about religion being held to a double standard. Walter van Beek Is correct that government should not privilege one religion above another, but I am struck that he does not seem to realize that the issue has not been one religion getting preferential treatment over another. Rather, religions are being subjected to more restrictive behavior than non-religious groups. The so-called “progressive” Mayor of New York is fine threatening Orthodox Jews with arrest who gather in defiance of his Covid-19 restrictions, but his Covid-19 restrictions magically disappear when there are mass protests against police brutality, that ignore the restrictions. Gretchen Whitmer, the Governor of Michigan, was very strong on restricting social gatherings (including religious activities), but blithely ignored her own regulations, when she participated in mass protests over George Floyd’s murder. The smell of hypocrisy is obvious to those who do not wear “progressive” blinders.

    One need not be a fan of David Bednar and his cranky personality to realize that he is right in being concerned that there are dangers posed to religion. There is genuine hostility from progressive politicians toward religion, which in their eyes, is wrong on many social issues important to them, and therefore should be marginalized in society. Van Beek is incorrect that Covid 19 has nothing to do with freedom of religion; the necessary restrictions that were placed against religious activities to try and contain the spread of the disease, are now being used to marginalize religion’s place in society, as other activities are allowed to resume. Protests are okay and are allowed to break the rules; religious observances are met with a much tougher standard. That is discrimination.

    Interestingly, a federal judge in NYC tossed out Cuomo’s and de Blasio’s restrictions, about a day ago, for the reasons I have cited.

  9. Thanks to those of you who have given context that helps me understand where Elder Bednar may have been coming from. Also, where is the Elder Bednar is cranky theme coming from? I haven’t felt that vibe from him.

  10. E:

    Sorry, I should have left my personal comment out of my comment. I always profit from Bednar’s conference talks, and I appreciate what he does for the Church and the work of the Gospel, but—I—have—-never—seen—him—crack—a—smile, in the 15 years he has been in the Q12. I also personally sense a quiet edge to the man. There are Church leaders whom one feels uplifted by (Uchtdorf, Holland), who are happy souls who lighten up a room just by being there. And there are those who follow the admonition, “My son, be sober!” to the Nth degree. I miss the lighthearted stories of Gordon Hinckley and Thomas Monson. I sometimes think we are The Church of Jesus Christ of Constipated Saints, and I prefer to focus on the scripture that men are, that they might have joy.

    Again, my personal prejudice only; sorry, did not mean to derail the comment thread.

  11. “Elder Bednar continued, “While believers and their religious organizations must be good citizens in a time of crisis, never again can we allow government officials to treat the exercise of religion as simply nonessential. Never again must the fundamental right to worship God be trivialized below the ability to buy gasoline.”

    Paranoia will destroy ya, the perfect example.

    From a link beneath Bednar’s talk on Newsroom website: “Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was admitted to the hospital last week following several days of illness. He has been tested and does not have COVID-19. Other diagnostic studies are being done.”

  12. I thought the church missed a real opportunity to mention a bit prophetic foresight in that for several prior conferences they emphasized a home based church in advance of the pandemic. And now we are actually having to do church at home. I don’t recall it being mentioned in the April conference that God had sent home-based church in advance of the pandemic to prepare the saints for this pandemic. That would’ve played well with many of the members.

    Additionally I think E was right on. The church actually was proactive to shut down. I think the church had to stop services since the church president & several apostles are MDs. It would have been embarrassing for men who’s careers are based on science to ignore the forecast of disease spread, and the fact that the largest demographic group, the elderly >60, would be at greatest risk of death. It was the only choice.

    I’m also not too worried about loss of religious freedom as the president etc, and virtually all the Members of the house & senate are/claim to be religious with the vast majority being Christian. Like Hammurabi, Cyrus & Ceaser, our government & most governments have a lot of religious tolerance as long as you pay your taxes.

    On a different tack, I also mention that I recall president Nelson In the 80s saying in a gen conf that public took a precedent over constitutional privacy during the days when AIDS was raging through the population. So this action seems consistent to me.

    Thanks for listening.

  13. Going to church for 38 minutes once a month, with doors wide open, people spaced out with every third row to themselves and medically vulnerable discouraged from attending is not essential to any member’s religious practice, which is a subject The Bill of Rights. Visiting the grocery store, or having someone do it for you, is.

    The broader public interest in health and safety sometimes constrains or curtails the right to assemble (and all other rights), which is what Elder Bednar is talking about. So tired of playing the victim card when no one’s right to believe or share what they believe is harmed. There are real victims of this virus, even in my own family. There are no victims of curtailed religious freedom (unless impinging on others’ rights) in the U.S.

  14. Other Chad
    If you want to have an argument you won’t get one from me. I understand what’s going on and there’s no argument to have other than encourage charity and vigilance.

    But the fact that you single out church, but not alcohol distribution and purchase or flying or trains, all of which drastically increase likelihood of death (compared to socially distanced church) shows the bias. That’s the problem.

    You don’t get to prioritize planes and booze over church.

    The economy was shut down except for targeted segments, not all of which are crucial.

    That shows the flaw in central planning and graft.

  15. “I don’t recall it being mentioned in the April conference that God had sent home-based church in advance of the pandemic to prepare the saints for this pandemic. ”

    I actually think the church leaders don’t want home church as it is. The side of me that rejects central planning authority thinks the church rejects acknowledging that disciples don’t “need” church per se.

    The reality is, Jesus himself would
    be considered in active by the local synagogue.

    But I also acknowledge the gathering in church should be one of the best ways to make those committed disciples. Unfortunately, that process is largely broken because we can’t get along with each other, struggle as a community to actually receive the Lord’s servants, and prefer our own pursuits to discipleship.

    Home church isn’t helping with that as a community, and neither was church church. (Individual cases notwithstanding)

  16. As I understand Elder Bednar’s words, he’s talking about the timing of the restrictions rather than the fact that there were restrictions. It’s sensible to shut down when there’s a deadly novel illness circulating. But when you can go and protest in massive crowds with impunity, but may be arrested for gathering as a small group to partake of vital sacraments and ordinances, that’s when it becomes clear that religious freedom has been curtailed in an unacceptable manner. When you’re not allowed to hold a funeral for grandma, or be with her at her deathbed, but looting minority businesses and neighborhoods is socially acceptable? It looks to me like there’s something fundamentally sick in our society.
    What he never said: “I don’t think there should have been a shutdown.”
    What he did say: “Never again must the fundamental right to worship God be trivialized below the ability to buy gasoline.”
    Our baptismal covenants assume community. We are supposed to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and stand as witnesses of God. That is more effectively accomplished when we can meet with our fellow Saints. That doesn’t mean that we don’t take precautions for the vulnerable, or that we can’t meet in smaller groups than we’ve been accustomed to. Elder Bednar was not advocating for a total return to normal right away, he was noting that preferential treatment for certain causes overrode the religious liberty that is literally written into the law of the land.

  17. Religious freedom used to mean
    1. Definition of religious liberty. In the American experiment, religious liberty is defined according to the following elements:

    2. Freedom of conscience. There shall be full freedom of conscience for people of all faiths or no faith.

    3. Religious liberty, an inalienable right. Religious liberty is considered to be a natural or inalienable right that must always be beyond the power of the state to confer or remove.

    4. Right to practice any or no religion. Religious liberty includes the right to freely practice any religion or no religion without government coercion or control.

    This is how I understand religious freedom; the right to practice my religion.

    When gay marriage became an issue conservatives insisted their religious freedom included the right to overrule other peoples freedom of consience(religious freedom). This insistance has brought those who have this definition into disrepute, and that definition is not generally accepted, by anyone but that conservative group.

    Bednar is now taking this to another level. He claims his religious freedom is more important than other peoples lives. To satisfy him there would be no restrictions on medical or scientific grounds. Some of the first cases were from religious groups, and choirs. His, and the church’s credibility just took another hit. 128,000 is not enough. Or is he saying you can limit other groups but not churches.

    Church settings are more dangerous than petrol stations or even demonstrations. Confined space, and churches and singing causing early outbreaks. There is no double standard just churches being held to the same standard.

    What a shame he could not have found a more useful example, like how racial oppression infringes peoples freedom?

  18. Now that church is allowed; if Bednar is not seen at church, he would be a real hypocrite. I doubt he will be at church. Has he been?

  19. Thanks for the comments, and for the diversity of opinions,
    Indeed, the measures against the virus are state matter, not a federal one, but the delay in the response came for a large part from Washington. Here in the Netherlands we were not the first to really respond either, more in the middle cohort among the countries, but the virus is subsiding and the last week we had 2 days with zero deaths, and new infections below 100 per day. The US is going through a deeper valley, also because of its late response, and because lack of accessibilty of its medical system, also not unrelated to the federal government measures.
    Elder Bednar’s speech probably is part of a larger groundswell to link covid-19 with religious matters, What the larger agenda is, remains to be seen, but we as Europeans appreciate how Americans like to keep their government at some arms’ length. The choice between ‘good governance’ and ‘little governance’ remains a hard one; we at our side of the Atlantic prefer the first, but it takes a lot of investment (and high taxes).
    Are churches singled out in the government responses on the virus? I fail to see it, and the evidence is underwhelming. Even here in secularized Europe, I see no signs of it. We also have large demonstrations, for Black Lives Matter, and one of these played havoc with the 6 foot rule, and cost the mayor of Amsterdam almost her job. No exemptions, all agreed.

    On the other hand church services have a bad track record as far as the virus is concerned. The gas station is safer, indeed. So let us beware of conspiracy theories.
    The church has been right in reacting quickly: all lives matter. And let us desist from rhetorics on religious freedom as being under attack, when in fact we are just like the other institutions as far as the virus goes. Only more adaptable, I hope, and much closer to our eternal destiny.
    Walter van Beek

  20. Walter:

    I appreciate Times and Seasons and its well-written opinion posts, as well as the diversity of opinions expressed in the comments. On many issues, my views are not set in stone, and T and S often gives me additional information, that helps me form better opinions. Sometimes, the comments lead me to change my opinions. But all of this is predicated on participants trying to understand each other and genuinely communicating.

    While I appreciate what you wrote, and the back-and-forth of comments that your post started, your final comment was frustrating. You stated that you failed to see that churches have been singled out in government responses to Covid 19, and that evidence for such claims was underwhelming.

    However, you did not engage, or even acknowledge, the points that were raised in the comment thread, that cited examples of government restrictions against religions being more onerous than those levied against non-religious institutions. SDS, Scranney, Sute, E.C., and I all raised concerns about governments singling out religions. Examples were provided. And you simply ignored them, stating that you failed to see how religions have been subjected to more stringent standards.

    That is not discussion. Those who disagree with you are not asking you to magically change your opinion because of what they say; but I think that they would appreciate it if you would take the trouble to try and understand their perspective. Ignoring the points they raised does not do this.

  21. Bednar is not seen at church, he would be a real hypocrite.
    I guess Geoff Aus does not take seriously the admonition to not speak ill of the Lord’s anointed.

  22. Taiwan, typically our chapel is packed and people are sitting so close to each other they’re literally touching. The ceiling is relatively low, and after the meeting begins the doors are closed. The environment is more favorable to passing along infection than even a movie theater – in fact, I can’t think of a more favorable environment other than a packed jail cell.

  23. I would rather go to the gas station in lieu of attending Saturday Stake Conference where we watch Church videos about religious freedom AND hear testimonies from parents with LGBTQ children (true story).

  24. P:

    Good point. If your Church leaders have resumed meetings, sounds like they are not being very pro-active. Our Stake has a high percentage of elderly people in frail health, so Stake leaders and Bishops met and decided to hold off on resuming meetings for the time being; decision to be reviewed monthly. I think that was wise. Speaking facetiously, it sounds like your Ward might need some muscle-bound ushers to enforce distancing.

    The sticking point for me is not whether religious groups are making bad decisions about how to handle the Virus. Clearly, some religious groups are making poor judgments. The Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn thronged the streets in groups of hundreds for funerals—very bad call.

    Rather, the point is, government leaders like Cuomo and De Blasio are giving other people the right to ignore the rules and make bad decisions (protest crowds vastly exceeding social distancing limits, not wearing masks), and government leaders themselves are joining in ignoring the rules they have themselves set up (Gretchen Whitmer) — and then turning around and threatening religious groups with sanctions for ignoring the rules that they only selectively enforce.

    Apply your rules across the board. To say that Group A doesn’t have to obey, but Group B does — that is discrimination. It effectively says that religions are not a privileged class allowed to break rules, but protestors, whose numbers far outstrip religious congregants, are.

    And liquor stores are essential businesses allowed to stay open, while religious groups cannot meet?

  25. Not mentioned yet, but relevant, is Elder Bednar’s complaints about baptismal services being forbidden. This–and Catholicism’s Last Rites–could easily be performed safely with social distancing, but they’re banned in California. The fact that these religious rites are banned with more dangerous public gatherings are allowed is the type of discrimination he refers to. More so than regular worship services, I think.

  26. Leadership that runs the institution that manages the Church is aware of its political vulnerability in the face of the State. Institutional legitimacy is maintained by its administration of ordinances. So when the institution is unable to fulfill its most basic functions, by extension, it loses power and authority. Priesthood tends to be territorial over power and authority, so corporate headquarters must be frustrated.

    The multi-level marketing model has no answer for virus.

    This may be how the Lord decentralizes Zion, cleans up corruption inside the institution that manages the Church. We do not “need” ward-building-bath-tub-fonts to perform baptism—any clean immersible water is sufficient.

    Blocking baptism because our buildings are closed is a lame excuse—the institution gives the appearance of being more concerned with maintaining power over the baptismal ordinance, rather than ministering it.

  27. Taiwan missionary, yes I should elaborate on my remark that I was not convinced of religious groups being singled out for especially harsh treatment. I do not know all the details about the cases you mention, but what I do see, also here in Europe, is health scrutiny, and not religious persecution. Yes, religious gatherings are closely scrutinized by the authorities now, because religious gatherings have been about the worst in spreading the epidemic, Also in Africa, countries like South Africa and Burkina Faso had their first jump start in infection rates through religious gatherings. So had France and Switzerland. The USA has similar experiences, irrespective of creed. Consequently, religious gatherings are under scrutiny, grosso modo, not because they are religious, but because they are dangerous, since they are veritable health risks. If, for some individual reasons, some local authorities chose to use that to thwart a group they do not like, that is abuse of legitimate power in emergency, and that will happen in any emergency, Will there be irregularities and inconsistencies in the implementation of policy? Definitely, and it is good to single them out, but also in these I see no major trend towards persecution of religious groups, other than their forms of worship can be dangerous. It is good to poinder that our own temple rites are quite tricky in this respect, and not pursuing them at this time is wise. One wonders how some of the ‘contact-rituals’ within them will fare in the future.

    I see all sorts of people bending the distance rules, the most flagrant have been the tennis tournament in Serbia by Djokovic, and also other high profile people tend to think they are exempt. They receive massive criticism, and rightly so. Churches are not exempt either and should not think so, The question which comes fist, the law of the country or the law of God received a clear answer in 1890, Bednar showedsome lack of historical consciousness on this point. Coming second, after the law of the country, is not an attack on religious freedom.

    Throughout, administrators usually are very wary of being seen as anti-religion, bad for public image, even in European countries, So, yes, you will still have to convince me of a general trend towards de facto oppression of religion.
    Travis is right when he zooms in on the question why church leaders think they are under attack: their power base is being eroded by the lockdown, individualisation of religious worship is anti-institutional. That is the queestion which logically follows from these observations, and I will return to that.later.

    Walter van Beek

  28. There may be a failure of communication here. Walter and some other commenters seem to think that we are faced with two competing hypotheses:

    1. In restricting activities in response to Covid-19, governmental authorities are simply applying the same rules and criteria to religion that they apply to other activities and associations; or

    2. Governmental authorities are using the Covid crisis as an excuse or pretext– I believe Walter at one point used the term “conspiracy”– to shut down religious activities and associations.

    Walter and others seem to suppose that religious freedom critics of the restrictions are arguing for #2, which they find implausible, and so they deny the infringement of religious freedom and seemingly adopt something like hypothesis 1.

    Generally, though, religious freedom-based critics haven’t been arguing for #2, but instead for a different proposition:
    3. In their policies, restrictions, and allowances, governmental authorities have been making judgments about degrees of danger, yes, but also about the value of different activities and associations; and in many instances those judgments reflect a devaluing of religion in comparison to, say, concerts or cosmetics or social justice protests. Sometimes this devaluation is explicit, as in the case of Mayor Di Blasio. And that sort of devaluation can result in infringements of religious freedom.

    As a general matter, at least in Western societies (as opposed to, say, the Middle East), freedom of religion is more likely to be threatened by something like #3, although occasionally #2 may apply. And even religious citizens may acquiesce in the attitudes or valuations reflected in #3, or affirmatively join in those attitudes, with respect to religions (sometimes even their own) or religious practices towards which they lack sympathy. But if we care about religious freedom (and it isn’t foreordained that we do), this attitude amounts to a failure of sympathy and imagination. Because, as I said, #3 will often be a greater threat to religious freedom than #2.

  29. Walter,
    The narrative you present of the US lockdowns being late compared to European countries is not accurate.
    Here are the time lapses between the first reports of covid deaths in a state and the prohibition of non-essential movement:

    Italy 14 days
    France 14 days
    Spain 10 days
    UK 15 days
    Belgium 5 days
    Germany 9 days

    California 12 days
    New York 8 days

    The disparate results in covid case numbers and fatalities are more complicated than simply saying the US was late.

  30. I reacted to Elder Bednar’s speech with disappointment about the tone of his remarks, but not about the fact that he was discussing religious freedom issues in the context of the pandemic. SDS’s comments here are a better example of the way to start that important discussion.

    A smart evaluation has to understand dispassionately how difficult this situation is for everyone, on all sides. This is a genuinely unprecedented problem. There have been other pandemics in human history, of course, but this is the first time it has happened in our age of mass communication and mass transport. It is the first time we’ve been able to attack a global pandemic with the tools of modern epidemiology and modern government. Those factors give us huge advantages in dealing with the disease, but no one has ever used these tools before on such a scale.

    We have to remember that no one can possibly get everything right the first time in dealing with such massive problems. We have to be willing to learn as we go. The way government interacts with religious practices in this situation is one of the things we have to learn. My impression is that there has not been widespread disregard of religious freedom during the pandemic, though of course I don’t deny that in some places we’ve probably got it wrong. Whether you agree with me about that or not, though, I hope we can agree on the remedies. First, we start discussions, which should be searching, intelligent, and inclusive of the various interests and concerns. Second, we petition the government for changes where they are needed. Third, we can turn to the courts to rule on controversies. (As we’ve read in this comment thread, the courts have already played a role in a few cases, with generally encouraging results for those who are concerned about restrictions on religious liberty.)

    What disappoints me about Elder Bednar’s speech is its alarmism. (He even uses the metaphor of “ringing the alarm.”) To speak in such a tone right now strikes me as a huge misreading of what’s needed. In my opinion, there is far more to be gained by a cooperative and sympathetic approach. We’re all struggling through one of the hardest challenges we’ll ever face. It’s perfectly sane for religious people to stand up for our rights in this situation. It’s a vital conversation to have. But it’s not smart to assume that governments are trying to pounce on churches or religious people right now. As with many things in a crisis, we’re more likely to find the solutions we need if we dial back the invective and the anxiety. Especially now, we desperately need both governments and churches to function well. There is no need to encourage an adversarial attitude.

  31. Thanks, SDS, food allergy and Loursat, for the measured and informative responses. The world has had more of these crises in he past, but never with the knowledge about infections we have now, and never with such a rude awakening from the presumed safety we thought we lived in (I will come back to that in another post). We agree, I think, in the idea that this is more a time for seeking comfort in each other and suffer with the afflicted, than pointing with accusing fingers, or of raising alarms that belong to another time, another stage. Here in The Netherlands and Europe in general we are moving out of this harsh period, while in the USA the cup has not been emptied yet. But who knows what the future has in store? It behoves us to be humble, and trusting.
    So I want to close this discussion with the assurance that we as brothers and sisters can support one another in difficult times, and should never stop doing that.
    Walter van Beek

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