Worship service at center of COVID-19 outbreak
South Korean health officials traced more than 1,000 suspected COVID-19 cases to one woman in her 60s who went to church. Officials had managed to prevent a major outbreak of the coronavirus for four weeks, tallying only 30 cases. “Patient 31,” however, was tested on February 15 and went the next day to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, whose founder claims to be the second coming of Christ. Within a few days, hundreds of new coronavirus cases were connected to the sect.
Coronavirus shutdowns apply to churches
Legal experts say religious gatherings are not exempt from government bans on social events, despite robust US protections of religious liberty. Many governors called for large events to be canceled starting in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended holding no meetings of 50 people or more for eight weeks, which affects about 80 percent of religious congregations. Most churches moved services online, but a few refused to stop meeting. If states decide to enforce the ban, the Supreme Court has found governments may “substantially burden” religious exercise when it serves a legitimate state interest, when the law is generally applicable, and when the burden is as light as possible.
The coronavirus is expected to devastate the economy of the Holy Land, which depends heavily on Christian tourism. When more than 100 cases were confirmed in Israel and dozens in the West Bank, the Israeli government mandated a 14-day quarantine for everyone entering the country from March to Easter. The Palestinian Authority instituted similar restrictions in the West Bank. ...1
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Gleanings: May 2020
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