A new study shows that voters are beginning to bristle at coronavirus restrictions that target religion.
A significant majority of religious voters say that houses of worship should at least get equal treatment in reopening from state and local governments as businesses, with just 22 percent saying that businesses should be prioritized, according to the Becket Fund's 2020 Religious Freedom Index. The same number of respondents, 22 percent, said religious services should be given top priority in reopening.
"What we saw here was especially in reopenings, respondents want religious activity to at least get a fair shake from the government," Caleb Lyman, director of research and analytics at Becket, said. "As governments closed and reopened economies, we saw conflicts as houses of worship faced continued limitations while some places of business were allowed to reopen."
Respondents were also critical of the government's hands-off approach to protests compared with the restrictions faced by religious institutions. They were twice as likely to support outdoor religious services than they were to favor outdoor protests. Thirty-five percent of respondents said that outdoor religious services should receive higher priority than outdoor protests, and 48 percent said outdoor religious services should receive as much priority as outdoor protests. Just 17 percent said outdoor protests should have higher priority. The vast majority said that religious organizations should also take more of a leadership role in dealing with social unrest.
"Data from the Index and additional questions show support for the idea that religion is part of an individual's identity, not just a hobby or a weekend activity, and further, that to recognize this reality, an individual's religion requires protections and accommodations," the study states.
Respondents indicated that religious services are vital to reopening the country because of the role religion has played in helping individuals through the pandemic. More than 60 percent of respondents said their faith was important to them in getting through the past year under stay-at-home orders and social-distancing requirements. Respondents older than 65 were also much more likely to say their faith was vital to dealing with the pandemic.
The results come as the country reckons with a new wave of coronavirus cases. Some states have allowed businesses such as strip clubs to reopen even as they crack down on religious services. Religious leaders are beginning to fight back against lockdown orders that they say unfairly target worship. A coalition of Jewish groups filed a legal complaint against New York governor Andrew Cuomo (D.), accusing him of specifically targeting Orthodox communities. The governor singled out Orthodox Jewish groups in a public statement regarding a coronavirus outbreak, prompting outcry and backlash.
California has also been the site of high-profile legal clashes between local churches and the state government. An evangelical church and a dissident Catholic church have filed lawsuits challenging the state on its harsh treatment of religion even as it allows mass gatherings that celebrate sports championships and Black Lives Matter rallies. Governor Gavin Newsom (D.), meanwhile, has come under fire for attending a high-profile dinner party with a top lobbyist that appeared to violate the state's coronavirus guidance.