Learning From the Vast COVID-19 Restrictions on Religion

January 13, 2023

RFI Executive Vice President Eric Patterson authored an article published this week in WORLD Magazine reflecting on the implications of an “exhaustive new study by the Pew Research Center cataloging government attacks on religious people and houses of worship throughout 2020″ and the critical lessons to be learned. Patterson writes:

In many cases it is clear that something other than safety precautions drove the heavy-handed approach. Sadly, government officials mistrusted faith networks to do what they do better than anyone else: communicate, serve, and live our conviction. A careful read of the report’s findings can help Christians prepare for the future.

One of the report’s ugliest findings is the many examples of governments and social groups blaming religious communities for spreading the virus. This was typically directed at ethno-religious minorities, such as Pakistan’s Sunni majority blaming its Shia minority, or Cambodia blaming its Muslim minority, for spreading the infection. COVID-19 was also the occasion for increased anti-Semitism, such as the viral social media campaign in France that depicted a former Jewish health official poisoning a well. (The image echoes the blaming of Jews for the medieval plagues.) Even in the United States we saw a rise in anti-Semitism fueled in part by attacks by New York officials.

The list of restrictions is long: hospital chaplains locked out, prisoners denied access to religious services, the arrest of clergy and religious people, controversies over COVID vaccines, and laws barring the many ways that religious people gather to worship, marry, administer sacraments, and mourn the dead. Churches were closed while gyms, restaurants, and shops reopened. Many of these restrictions continued well beyond 2020 and into 2022.

Read the full article: “Learning From the Vast COVID-19 Restrictions on Religion.”