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WASHINGTON, D.C., May 8, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The Trump administration is pushing back against the US Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidelines for lifting COVID-19 restrictions across the United States, arguing on multiple grounds including potential infringement on religious liberty.
The CDC’s interim guidance document covers a range of areas, including schools, mass transit, restaurants, and more, with suggestions such as moving toward disposable utensils and closing bus or subway routes. Its section for “communities of faith” is currently blank, with a note stating that it will be added later in consultation with the White House, Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, and Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs.
“But White House and other administration officials rejected the recommendations over concerns that they were overly prescriptive, infringed on religious rights and risked further damaging an economy that Mr. Trump was banking on to recover quickly,” the New York Times reports.
The religious recommendations currently under consideration include encouraging facemasks inside churches, and considering “suspending use of a choir or musical ensemble” and “temporarily limiting the sharing of frequently touched objects,” such as prayer books or collection baskets.
The Times adds that another draft of the document clarifies that its recommendations are “not intended to infringe on First Amendment rights as provided in the U.S. Constitution,” and that the “federal government may not prescribe standards for interactions of faith communities in houses of worship. C.D.C. offers these suggestions that faith communities may consider and accept or reject.”
“Protections against religious discrimination aren’t suspended during an emergency,” HHS Office for Civil Rights director Roger Severino said. “This means the federal government cannot single out religious conduct as somehow being more dangerous or worthy of scrutiny than comparable secular behavior.”
COVID-19 lockdown orders across the country have forced the suspension of many public gatherings and activities across the country for fear of spreading the virus. Many such actions have been controversial, from ticketing pro-lifers for standing outside abortion centers (even while maintaining recommended “social distance” from one another) to prohibiting even drive-in church services. A number of states have either prohibited in-person services outright or severely limited the number of people who can be in a church at the same time.
US Attorney General William Barr has repeatedly warned states that the Bill of Rights remains in effect during this crisis, and that the Justice Department is willing to intervene if they infringe on religious freedoms.