I’m sure you’ve heard that beginning tomorrow, Governor Baker has declared we can now forego wearing masks outside. I’m looking forward to watching soccer games this weekend where I can actually see my children’s faces, and we can all give up the charade that masking our youth in sports is “trusting the science.” Baker also projected that most, if not all, COVID restrictions will be lifted by August 1st.
Although demasking outdoors is better than a perpetual “New Normal” of limited gatherings and constant masking, we’re not out of the woods yet. Earlier this week, MFI received a call for help from a local church that is being investigated by the “Epidemic Intelligence Unit” (EIU). A parishioner had tested positive for COVID and listed the church as a place he had recently visited when this unit first called him. That led to the church facing demands from the EIU to turn over the names of church attendees and the dates of their attendance.
There are two important things to note here. First, churches are under no obligation to report anything to this unit that is assuming authority it does not have. Even setting aside the obvious First Amendment implications of this type of intrusion on the free exercise of religion and the freedom of assembly, the Governor’s own guidelines for churches do not require such information sharing. Churches are instructed only to “assist the LBOH (local Board of Health) as reasonably requested to advise likely contacts to isolate and self-quarantine.” This means the church communicates information from the LBOH to its people, NOT that it must hand over personal information to the LBOH. Incredibly, the EIU sent the church this memo which purports to authorize them to collect “necessary demographic information, specifically: full name, date of birth, address, phone number, and race and ethnicity.” But that memo applies only to “Healthcare Providers and Facilities.” It does NOT apply to churches. In addition to which, and for obvious reasons, churches should not ever submit attendee lists to the government.
Second and equally alarming, the EIU is NOT the local Board of Health. It’s not even a government entity. MFI is still looking into this, but so far, it appears that the EIU is part of the Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC) that is run by Partners In Health (PIH). PIH describes itself as follows:
We are a social justice organization that responds to the moral imperative to provide high-quality health care globally to those who need it most. […] We bring the benefits of modern medicine to those who have suffered from the overt and subtle injustices of the world, in the past and in the present.
Curiously, according to the PIH website, churches are literally first on their list for where to look for infection. “During a global pandemic, an infection can happen anywhere—a church, a car wash, a grocery store.”
So, just to recap, a self-identified “social justice organization” is using the state’s imprimatur (incorrectly) to demand churches turn over to them the names, contact information and attendance dates. If your church is contacted by the Epidemic Intelligence Unit or the Contact Tracing Collaborative, please call MFI at 781-569-0400. We’ve helped many churches over the past year resist unnecessary and unconstitutional government intrusion into our sacred spaces, and we’re here to help you as well.