Appeals court judges threaten ‘contact tracing’ for religious services

By WND Staff

The shutdowns mandated by government to minimize the spread of coronavirus have affected schools, stores, government buildings, sports, concerns and much, much more, including churches.

The conflict between the constitutional right to assemble and worship in churches and health officials’ demands that people not gather in groups has been stark in many cases.

Dozens of fights have erupted as churches insist they have a constitutional right to exercise their religion, and government bureaucrats say no.

One prominent war over the issue has been going on in Illinois, where Gov. Jay Pritzker ordered no churches could have services involving more than 10 people, an order he later made a recommendation.

But two churches, the Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and the Logo Baptist Ministries, challenged his authority in court.

So far, the courts have sided with the governor, but the dispute turned into anything but routine when an appeals court decision started discussing “contact tracing” for religious services.

And the judges’ expectations that would reveal how “dangerous” those services are.

Officials with Liberty Counsel, who are representing the churches, noted, “Contact tracing, which is being deployed in many states and foreign countries, raises serious privacy and personal freedom concerns.

“It is disturbing that a federal court with absolutely no argument or evidence on the issue of ‘contact tracing’ would tacitly endorse it to ‘figure out how dangerous religious services are.’ The implications of such a careless statement are far reaching,” LC reported.

Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver said, “Decades of court precedent concludes that courts are incompetent and have no authority to determine the validity of a person’s religious beliefs. Nor should any court use careless language without any evidence in the record to suggest that people attending church should be tracked to determine if church attendance is ‘dangerous.’ The First Amendment does not depend on technology to track and trace a person’s movements.”

The recommendation for “tracing” in churches came from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected a request from the faith groups to be exempted from the size limits for gatherings.

The court stated: “Perhaps with more time—and more data from contact tracing—Illinois could figure out just how dangerous religious services are compared with warehouses and similar activities . . .”

The state already is into its tracing program.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the contact tracing program consists of tracers interviewing people who have newly tested positive about who they had significant contact with in the past 48 hours. Those people, often family, friends or coworkers, are then contacted and encouraged to stay home and practice social distancing for 14 days or get tested.

The court opinion appeared to have little tolerance for the churches’ concerns, insisting at one point they “are free to hold multiple ten-person services every week.”

Also, they’re allowed to have people sitting in cars in parking lots.

The judges said “Concerts can be replaced by recorded music, movie-going by streaming video, and large in-person worship services by smaller gatherings, radio and TV worship services, drive-in worship services, and the internet.”