Fighting Words: Should Washington State open houses of worship?

As Was. State moves into phase two of the “Safe Start” plan, Should Washington State should open houses of worship?

Yes

Hannah Nelson – Reporter

Several weeks ago, President Donald Trump declared churches and houses of worship to be “essential.” However, the only real “social distancing” changes we’ve seen in Washington state since then, aside from a number of counties shifting into phase two of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan, are found in its protests and riots.

Today, peaceful protests and ruthless riots alike have popped up across the country in response to the atrocious killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

So, please tell me why hundreds of protesters can willingly gather in downtown Seattle all while church doors are mostly required to remain closed?

According to The Seattle Times, “In the second phase of the governor’s four-part reopening plan—which 24 counties have entered—faith organizations will be allowed to hold services indoors with attendance for those services restricted to 25% of building capacity or 50 people, whichever is less.”

Why have these restrictions not been placed on protesters? If this is because such restrictions would violate the First Amendment rights of Americans to peacefully assemble, I have a newsflash: The First Amendment also addresses Americans’ right to freely exercise religion.

Perhaps this is simply an outdoor v. indoors thing? Yet outdoor events have the same amount of physical interaction among people as indoor events do.

On June 3, a video appeared on Twitter. The video was tweeted by 1101 NOW News evening anchor Bill Schammert and recorded by Ellis Whiltsey. It consisted of something I found to be quite wholesome: Police officers doing the Cupid Shuffle dance with protesters in Lincoln, Nebraska.

While this video put a smile on my face, it also fueled my frustration. Does this mean it’s acceptable to Cupid Shuffle with police officers but not meet for a church service?

COVID-19, no matter how much we self-quarantine, won’t be going away any time soon.

If wearing masks to a church service will help—even though the masks barely do anything to prevent the spread of the virus—then a number of people, myself included, would gladly put on a mask in order to worship and have fellowship with their religious community.

For many, church and worship is a necessity in their lives. Without it, a part of themselves is missing. In other words, it is “essential” and there are consequences to not having it.

Additionally, the reopening of churches would allow for further American freedom, as churchgoers would still have the option to stay home. A worship service can still be both live-streamed and in-person. If someone is concerned about the safety of their neighbors, then they can decide whether or not to attend a Sunday service—it’s that simple.

At one of his press conferences in May, Gov. Inslee stated, “Religion is constitutionally protected. So we think it deserves an extra degree of acuity in figuring out what is in the realm of the possible.”

As much as I appreciate Inslee’s statement here, I find his guidelines to be unconstitutional. It’s time to reopen our nation’s houses of worship and defend our First Amendment rights.

No

Adelle Engmann – OSM Manager

The U.S. surpassing two million COVID-19 cases in the country is an unexpected milestone. With a number of uncertainties and no vaccines approved to combat the virus, it’s best for spiritual and recreational activities and centers to remain closed. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Wash. state has close to 25,000 cases. 

In Pierce County alone, there are more than 2,000 cases and 83 deaths as of June 10, as stated by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. To protect residents and lessen the risk of increasing the number of cases, community members are still recommended to stay home as much as possible. The main way the virus spreads is through person-to-person contact, hence why reopening services too soon can jeopardize the significant progress the state has made to prevent the spread of the virus. 

As reported by Kiro 7, a woman from Northern California attended a church service for Mother’s Day during the pandemic against the state’s stay-at-home guidelines and later tested positive for COVID-19; leaving 180 attendees in danger of exposure. According to the CDC, an in-person choir practice in Skagit County, Wash. caused a SARS-Cov 2 spread that exposed a number of members, resulting in the death of two members who attended the service. Within this case, 61 people attended the approximately three-hour choir practice in mid-March while one member was symptomatic of the virus. After the exposure, 53 cases were later identified and 33 were confirmed. Three people tested positive for the virus and were hospitalized, where two later died. The CDC deemed this case as a high-attack rate for COVID-19 with more than 53% of attendees catching the virus. The transmission of respiratory droplets through members singing, sharing food and not social distancing contributed to this outcome. 

In addition to staying home and preventing the spread of the virus as much as possible, there are now other alternatives for religious services to continue in a safe way. In Phase one of Gov. Inslee’s “Safe Start” reopening plan,  faith-based organizations were allowed to hold services outside of their service’s property for up to 100 people, excluding staff. 

A number of religious organizations also were authorized to hold drive-in services where attendees would remain in their vehicles during the sermon. Other organizations have chosen to record their services and post them online for their members to watch from their homes. 

As Wash. state moves into Phase two of the “Safe Start” plan, religion and faith-based services are allowed indoors with only 50 individuals present and maintaining safety guidelines. This includes practicing social distancing and providing face masks for every attendee’s safety. If a full-capacity reopening of spiritual services is likely to happen, it’s important to continue to limit the in-person services and maintain safety guidelines advised by the state government until further notice.

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost

Fighting Words: Should Washington State open houses of worship?

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