As states sought ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, many governors issued executive orders limiting — or even banning social gatherings — including religious services.
But what to do about First Amendment religious protections?
The fight over religious protections has been waged across the nation during the epidemic — in both traditionally liberal and traditionally conservative states. In California, for example, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) faced lawsuits from pastors saying his orders have violated religious freedom and from the Center for American Liberty demanding that drive-in services be allowed. In Kansas, a federal judge struck down an executive order from Gov. Laura Kelly (D) because "churches and religious activities appear to have been singled out among essential functions for stricter treatment."
Most states in the U.S. carved out religious exemptions to their COVID-19 rules about social distancing. Some states limited gatherings to 10 people or fewer; some have slightly higher limits; and about a third of the states chose to allow religious gatherings to happen without any size limits.
According to the Pew Research Center, the states that currently have no limits on religious gatherings are Utah, Arizona, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
However, nearly one-fifth of the states still have outright prohibitions on all in-person religious gatherings. Until Sunday, Pew noted, Montana — a typically conservative, hands-off state — also prohibited religious services.
Here are the nine states that still have a ban on in-person services:
- New Jersey
- New York
(NOTE: The Pew graphic below states that it "reflects executive orders in effect on April 24. Montana allowed places of worship to resume services on April 26.")