Friday, April 3, 2020

As Some Officials Exempt Religions Gatherings from Stay-at-Home Directives, Medical and Legal Experts Respond to "Incredibly Bad Idea"

St. Ambrose of Milan, Cain and Abel, book 1, chapter 1, 3-4, from "Advice on Prayer — Ambrose," at Crossroads Initiative 

Here's some commentary for you from the last day or so on the move of some US officials to exempt religious gatherings — they provide "essential services," we're being told — from stay-at-home directives that apply to everyone else.

As Jim McManus also observes, Jim McManus, "The pain of this latter-day plague," explaining why churches are being closed in this pandemic, and why they need to be closed: 

There are three reasons [to close churches]. The first is to slow the rate of new infections. People are most infectious in the days before they show symptoms. The virus can be spread by cough droplets falling on surfaces such as pews, which are then touched by people who then put their hands on their face. Fragile the virus may be, but a continuous effort of cleaning and enforcing social distance would be essential to avoid churches spreading infection.  
The second is that slowing the spread of the virus will save lives. The fewer people, especially vulnerable people, who fall ill, the fewer will need ventilation and intensive care. If we fail to arrest the spread of the virus, the ability of the NHS to treat people will be exhausted and there will be many more avoidable deaths. (We have fewer ventilator beds per 100,000 people than northern Italy; our younger population will not be a major advantage, given our numbers of long-term ill.)   
The third reason we are closing our churches is that it incarnates the measures we all need to take to slow and stop this thing. The strong leadership our cardinal and bishops have shown is an act of charity to a population with no immunity.

As Jim McManus also observes,

St John of the Cross once said that we should be able to pray anywhere, not just in a fine cathedral.

Kiah Collier, Vianna Davila, and Perla Trevizo, "Meet the Pastors Holding In-Person Services During Coronavirus": As Governor Greg Abbott of Texas finally issues a statewide stay-at-home order, he exempts  religious gatherings as "essential services." Public health experts respond to this exemption: 

Top scientists and public health experts have warned that religious services appear to be particularly conducive to COVID-19 transmission, with multiple documented cases of spread in houses of worship across the globe. 
Harvard University epidemiologist Bill Hanage ticked off examples of virus transmission in houses of worship in London, South Korea, Singapore and the state of Georgia and said exempting religious services from shelter-in-place orders is "an incredibly bad idea." Nearly four dozen people also were hospitalized in Washington state last week after they met for a two-and-a-half-hour choir practice in a church. Two members have died.

And as churches both evangelical and Catholic line up to file suit against Houston for not permitting church gatherings to safeguard the public and keep the virus from spreading, Harvard epidemiologist Hanage responds:

Harvard's Hanage said gatherings of any size are problematic. And the way people interact in churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious facilities — shaking hands, hugging, singing — appears conducive to what epidemiologists call 'super-spreading events,' he said. 
"We know that church services are places where this gets spread," he said. "People need to understand that it's a risk" (my emphasis added).

Michael Paluska, "Governor DeSantis includes 'attending religious services conducted in churches' as essential services": In his stay-at-home order, Governor DeSantis of Florida gives cover to Tampa megachurch pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, who has violated a local ruling to stop holding church services during the pandemic, and was arrested. DeSantis's stay-at-home order classifies religious gatherings as "essential services." Legal expert Jeff Swartz responds:

This order was clearly designed and worded to provide legal and political cover for reverend Rodney Howard-Browne. We have a public safety issue, nothing is stopping people from following reverend Howard-Browne on his podcast nothing stops them from believing in what he tells them nothing stops them from practicing their religion except to the extent that they create a public hazard or a public danger. And, under these circumstances, I think the order of Hillsborough county was very lawful

St. John Chrysostom, Homily IV, On Anna, from Prayer Corner of website of Generalate, Sisters of St. Basil the Great

P.S. In case you are having difficulty reading the two quotations at top and bottom of this posting (they do enlarge if you click them), they read as follows: 

The apostle [Paul] teaches us to pray anywhere, while the Savior says Go into your room – but you must understand that this "room" is not the room with four walls that confines your body when you are in it, but the secret space within you in which your thoughts are enclosed and where your sensations arrive. That is your prayer-room, always with you wherever you are, always secret wherever you are, with your only witness being God. 
~ St. Ambrose of Milan, Cain and Abel, book 1, chapter 1, 3-4
Wherever you may be, you can pray anywhere. Only show good will, and neither place nor time will be a hindrance for you. And although you might not be bending your knees nor beating your breast, or raising your arms to heaven, but have merely displayed a fervent soul, "by this you will have fulfilled everything necessary for prayer…God does not regard the place. He desires only a sincere heart and a meek soul. 
~ St. John Chrysostom, Homily IV, On Anna

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