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Home Hartford Guest Editorial | By Pastor Bryan McDowell

Guest Editorial | By Pastor Bryan McDowell

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August 16, 2020 – Hartford, WI – On behalf of places of worship across our state, I am asking Gov. Tony Evers to affirm religious liberty in Wisconsin, and exclude religious organizations from the face mask mandate.

While I feel it is important to honor an individual’s personal decision regarding wearing a face mask, I do not feel this should be a government mandate.

While I am sure many have raised concerns about the constitutionality of the face mask order, there can be no doubt that any government mandate placed on a house of worship is prohibited by the Constitution. The face mask mandate marks the second time during the course of this pandemic Wisconsin churches have faced such an overreach.

The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The face mask mandate prohibits the free exercise of religion in the following ways:

  • Places major limitations on how vocalists conduct worship.
  • Limits meaningful connection between faith leaders and parishioners during times of prayer.
  • Limits the assembly’s ability to worship freely and openly.

Other states that have implemented a face mask mandate have recognized the protections that religious organizations have under the Constitution and have clarified that places of worship are exempt. The governor should follow this model and affirm freedom of religion in Wisconsin.

Bryan McDowell, Hartford, lead pastor, Family Church

 

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Jack Russell Memorial Library, Hartford

2 COMMENTS

  1. “there can be no doubt that any government mandate placed on a house of worship is prohibited by the Constitution.”

    Wrong — see e.g. South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom (2020).
    Also keep in mind that churches still need to follow things like building codes, and that the same government mandate also limits another first amendment right, freedom of association.

  2. Dear Pastor Mc Dowell,

    As a leader of your church, you are ultimately in control of how your church chooses to operate during this ongoing crisis. I am an Elder and long time member of your neighbor church, Divine Savior Lutheran, and you should know that it IS very possible to worship during the pandemic.

    Our church reopened about two and a half months ago, but before doing so we set a strict set of guidelines for attending, such as requiring masks and sanitizer for ALL congregants, and committing to attend a service by signing up online or via the church office. No sign up…no admittance. No mask…no admittance. We have limited our attendance to no more than 60 parishioners; this includes our pastor, Elder, ushers, organists, and any vocalists. We social distance by having every other pew vacant, and by allowing only one family unit at each end of the pews that we DO use, leaving the large, middle portion of each pew vacant for distancing. All of our pews are disinfected immediately after each service. Hymnals have been removed, interior doors locked open to limit contact, drinking fountains shut off as well as other details to aid in overall prevention.

    So know that while I do agree with you that maybe our Governor has over-stepped his bounds, it IS very much possible to worship in a way that should be acceptable to the greater majority of your congregation.

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