A couple weeks ago, the president said, “Open churches now.” He argued that it is an essential service. Most church leaders will argue that regular church attendance is helpful for the mind, will and emotions. And, of course, allowing churches to meet is an explicit First Amendment right.
Though churches are gradually opening their doors — there are restrictions. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis' executive order requires they maintain social distancing, reduce occupancy, and require an advanced reservation.
Let’s compare that to the current protesters. There was no social distancing; the occupancy was far above the mandate in the executive order, and there was no reservation required. When asked about the protesters’ violation of his executive order, the governor’s response last week was that, "Protesters knew the risk they were taking but believe passionately in that cause.”
So, according to the governor, there are two acceptable reasons to disobey his executive orders: one is to know the risk and the other is to believe passionately in the cause.
For race relations protesters, it is acceptable to show up in a large crowd and express yourself in all forms. Apparently, many protesters who have been interviewed miss their night clubs and concerts. Regardless, before they march, they prepare. In response to the leader with the megaphone, they lift their hands, they express verbal covenants, often on their knees, and convey admiration and reverence for their cause. (The protests that are not peaceful are a different conversation.)
The gist of the governor’s leniency here is that peaceful race relations protesters should be treated like adults since they “knew the risk.” They are allowed to express their First Amendment rights.
But, apparently, Christians do not have the adult capacity to “know the risk.” They must make a reservation. There are many religious beliefs, but I will use references here that relate to my personal faith. Christians anticipate fellowshipping in person for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to encourage a strong heart, to honor the teachings of kindness and to facilitate service to others.
There is a clear double standard in how protesters and churchgoers are treated. Since protesters “believe passionately in that cause,” there will be no enforcement against them when they violate executive order mandates. But, not so for churches.
According to the guidelines laid down by the governor, it is not okay to attend church without a reservation, but it is ok to protest without one since “those who joined the protest knew they could not stay at home in the face of ongoing racial discrimination.” They were compelled to assemble.
I grew up in a church that chose to locate at the crossroads of black and white neighborhoods and was raised to be genuinely colorblind based on ideas promulgated 2,000 years ago by Christ himself. Though imperfectly practiced by people, Christians believe we should forgive each other, regardless of the basis of the quarrel. And our church strongly opposes racial discrimination and celebrates the leadership of all ethnic groups. We promote these ideas without coercion. So how are we not passionate about our cause?
The governor’s defense of the race relations protesters while restricting churchgoers reflects a gap in his understanding of the American Idea. One of the fundamental points of liberty is that we do not need the permission of the government to worship. Christians came here before it was a country to find a place to freely gather together to worship.
And for the Christian, there is more to it: We believe that we must invite and accept everyone — especially those who make a spontaneous choice to assemble with us. It is not a members-only proposition. Many of us came to belief in the Christian faith by such a moment — and that open-arms culture is foundational to our ideals.
Governor, please drop the restrictions and allow the church to enjoy its First Amendment rights unencumbered.
Barry Farah is a business executive, author and speaker, and was a 2018 Republican candidate for governor of Colorado. Farah also volunteered as a senior pastor for seven years.