The COVID-19 Crisis and Restrictions on Religious Gatherings

May 8, 2020
7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. EDT
Location: Online

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded across the United States, a range of city and state leaders issued closure orders for various types of "non-essential" businesses and issued stay-at-home orders with specific restrictions on gatherings of persons, including religious services. Many saw these orders as crucial ways to mitigate the spread of the virus. Some saw these restrictions as overly burdensome on religious persons, particularly as they restricted religious worship and gathering for funerals and weddings. The restrictions gave rise to many legal issues, particularly around constitutional case law protections of religious liberty and how that impacts the status of stay-at-home orders.

In this conversation moderated by Berkley Center Managing Director Michael Kessler, legal scholars and practitioners discussed the status of stay-at-home orders given constitutional case law protecting religious liberty (and the federal and state level Religious Freedom Restoration Acts). They discussed key questions such as: Have there been disparate impacts on different religious communities? Have some of the alternative approaches been feasible ways to manage around the restrictions, such as drive-in worship services? Are there ways, within the law and beyond the law, to encourage religious communities to cooperate with stay-at-home orders?

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