What COVID-19 Restrictions on Religious Freedom Reveal About America in 2020: An Interview with Thomas Farr

May 29, 2020

On May 26, John Knowles, Northeast Regional Director for Legatus, interviewed RFI President Thomas Farr in a webinar entitled, “What COVID-19 Restrictions on Religious Freedom Reveal About America in 2020.” Legatus has 5,000 members in roughly 90 chapters in the United States and Canada, and is committed to helping its members “study, live, and spread the Catholic faith” in their business, professional, and personal lives. This webinar was open to Legatus members.

During the webinar, Farr explained that government restrictions on religious gatherings have generally been appropriate throughout the COVID-19 crisis. He made a similar argument in an article in National Catholic Register published last month. But he also emphasized that during this time of reopening American society, several state governors have erred in critical ways. Abortion and liquor stores, for example, have been open throughout the crisis, and remain open now, but religious gatherings have remained closed. That such a state of affairs violates America’s tradition of religious freedom cannot be overstated.

Farr elaborated on this point:

We [Catholics] are not interested…in insisting that we are able to gather when others aren’t—that’s not what this is about—it is about watching when some governors around this country…[claim] that we’ve got to have the ability to go to Target, we’ve got to have the ability to gather at Walmart…but it is not essential that we gather for religious services. And when people began to see this, they began to realize we have a real problem in this country.”

Farr went on to say that judicial decisions and government decrees alone will not solve the pernicious attitude that underlies this devaluing of religious freedom. There is a deep cultural problem here that must be addressed in a sustained, vigorous manner upstream from the law and the courts.   

Religious individuals and communities may not be subject to special burdens and other discriminatory treatment by government—the First Amendment ensures that much. There is a presumption in favor of religious freedom in this country and the recent actions by some state governors have utterly failed to respect that presumption. Americans need to rekindle the cultural convictions and fortitude to call them on it.  

Find additional RFI commentary on religious freedom in the COVID-19 crisis here.