A week ago, MA schools closed. As of noon yesterday, the vast majority of businesses in the Commonwealth were ordered to shut their doors as well. This is a journey into uncharted waters for all of us, but it has nevertheless confirmed some disturbing priorities for Beacon Hill. For example, the governor’s order of March 15th initially lumped churches in with other “non-essential activity.” The ban on all gatherings of 25 or more specifically included “faith based events” but exempted, among other things, “typical office environments” and “athletic and other events” held without spectators. This meant our state leaders were telling us we could go to work, and even drop our kids off at a youth basketball tournament, but we must NOT go to church. While I understood the need to avoid large gatherings, if things are bad enough to warrant effectively shutting down our churches, then the same should be true across the board, work and play included. As I said in a comment to the New Boston Post, “What message are we sending in a moment of international crisis when we say that sports are more important than corporate worship and prayer? We should trust the discretion of our faith leaders at least as much as coaches and avoid a disturbing and unnecessary violation of our cherished First Amendment rights.”
However, while the initial treatment of churches displayed perhaps an indifference to, or ignorance of, the importance of faith in the lives of so many in our Commonwealth, it was another exemption issued from the MA Department of Public Health that was even more appalling. As was trumpeted by the National Abortion Rights Action League of Massachusetts, abortions were exempted from the ban on nonessential, elective surgeries. There was a good deal of public outcry over this, as there should be. At a moment when the entire world is taking unprecedented measures to save lives, the abortion lobby was able to convince our health officials that continuing to murder the unborn is “essential.”
That being said, the tightened restrictions that went into effect yesterday did contain some relatively positive developments. Although “medical marijuana” was listed as an essential business, recreational marijuana shops were not. In fact, some of them have switched over to making hand sanitizer. More importantly, churches are now specifically exempted from the new order to close all non-essential businesses. “Churches, temples, mosques, and other places of worship shall not be required to close their brick and mortar premises to workers or the public; provided, however, that such institutions shall be required to comply with all limitations on gatherings…” This means that church gatherings of 10 or fewer are still permitted, which is especially important in light of so many churches livestreaming their Sunday morning services, for which a skeleton crew is typically necessary. It is a welcome change, and a quick reversal from a week ago, to see our churches recognized as more of a priority than office access and youth athletics.
I don’t know if we will be able to return to church en masse for Easter celebrations, but if not, we may be able to hold outside services. Yesterday’s order on gatherings also “does not prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people in an unenclosed, outdoor space such as a park, athletic field, or parking lot.” My in-laws attend a church which has traditionally held an Easter sunrise service on a nearby beach. Perhaps we’ll all be doing something similar to celebrate the resurrection this year.