On December 2, 2020, Kathleen Brady, scholar with the Religious Freedom Institute’s Freedom of Religious Institutions in Society Project, participated in an event titled, “The Covid-19 Pandemic & Religious Freedom: Reports from North America and Europe.” Andrews University, BYU Law School Center for Law and Religion Studies, and the University of Portsmouth sponsored the event, which consisted of five sessions over the course of two days.
Professor Brady gave a presentation titled, “COVID-19 and Restrictions on Religious Institutions: Constitutional Implications.” In her remarks, she addressed the principle of equal treatment in the context of discrimination against religious services, reflecting on the precedent established in the Supreme Court’s decision in Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah as well as the Court’s most recent decision dealing with this issue, Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo.
Professor Brady also outlined the emergence of a constitutional doctrine of church autonomy that provides protections for religious institutions that do not depend solely on equal treatment claims. The Supreme Court described the conceptual foundations and potential reach of this doctrine in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru. In the area of COVID-19 restrictions, this doctrine requires governments to tailor their rules carefully in order to maximize the freedom of congregations to meet safely in person. It also requires government officials to communicate and work with religious leaders when developing rules that impinge on worship.
The conference video and papers will be available at: https://www.covid-religiousliberty.org/events.