The Covid-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges to faith communities across the U.S. Americans searching for meaning in the sanctuaries of churches, temples and mosques find their doors closed amid government lockdowns. Such closures threaten the financial viability of some houses of worship. The public now must consider what society owes religious organizations during this time of crisis.
About 1 in 10 houses of worship are open for regular services, according to a March American Enterprise Institute survey—a number that likely has fallen since then. Some states, citing religious-freedom protections, have exempted religious services from stay-at-home orders. In other states churches simply violate prevailing restrictions on the grounds that they deserve special freedoms given their religious mission. In the most extreme cases, pastors in Florida and Louisiana have been arrested for continuing to hold services.
The presumption that houses of worship require special treatment also defines the debate over including them in the federal government’s Payroll Protection Program. The $349 billion allocated to the PPP allows small businesses to borrow up to 2.5 times their monthly payroll. The loan is forgivable if the business or nonprofit maintains its payroll. The same goes for religious institutions, whose inclusion in the program angered those who saw it as a violation of the separation of church and state.
Should Congress fund ministers/churches now, as Michael Helfand really interestingly argues? I think not– it would echo old practices better left behind– but there’s a case for it, since churches may face the same revenue loss as cities and states. https://t.co/lsCh2b2PuA
— David Skeel @ Penn (@daskeel) April 17, 2020