GOP congressman says virus safety rules violate 'religious liberty'

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Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, along with fellow Republican Rep. Chip Roy, is mad that the governor of another state is limiting the size of church gatherings.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) accused the governor of Illinois this week of violating people's religious liberty by enforcing a limit on the number of people who can attend gatherings at churches during the pandemic.

"Religious liberty is a fundamental right of every American," Biggs tweeted on Wednesday night. "Governors and mayors who abuse that right are in violation of the Constitution and the very essence of who we are as Americans."

Biggs was referring to an announcement by Gov. JB Pritzker earlier Wednesday regarding his five-phase plan to reopen the state.

Under Pritzker's plan, gatherings of more than 50 people — including those at church services — will not be banned as long as the coronavirus threat continues in the state.

"You know that, in phase three, there can be gatherings, church gatherings, of 10 or fewer. In phase four, 50 or fewer. So that's the guidance that's been given to me," Pritzker told reporters at the time. "I'm not the one providing that guidance. It really is what the scientists and epidemiologists are recommending."

Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) also attacked Pritzker's comments on Wednesday, tweeting, "No. Just, no. @LetAmericaOpen."

As Pritzker noted, under the current stay-at-home order, the "exercise of religion" is considered an essential activity and religious gatherings are permitted, as long as no more than 10 people are present. As the pandemic slows, that limit will rise to 50.

A church in Lena, Illinois, unsuccessfully sought a restraining order in federal court this week to stop the governor's restriction. It had reportedly been ignoring the law and holding services for 60 to 80 people at a time and made a religious liberty argument against the limits.

Other Republicans across the country have attacked stay-at-home orders in recent weeks, claiming they are a violation of various constitutional freedoms.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) called for a House Judiciary hearing last month on the "threats to liberty" from social distancing requirements.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) attacked Pennsylvania last month for enforcing a stay-at-home order, likening it to a "police state."

Roy and other Texas Republicans blasted officials in their own state for trying to force a salon to stay closed this week.

After its owner was fine and jailed for refusing to follow a court order, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) tweeted, "These punishments are NOT just. They are not reasonable. Small-minded 'leaders' across the country have become drunk with power. This must end."

More than 68,000 people in Illinois have tested positive for the coronavirus to date, with about 3,000 deaths in the state so far.

Experts have said social distancing and other virus safety measures may need to continue through the summer in order to prevent the outbreak from worsening.

"Social distancing will be with us through the summer to really ensure that we protect one another as we move through these phases," Dr. Deborah Birx, a public health expert and member of the White House coronavirus task force, said during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" late last month.

Still, she added, "If you look at those outbreaks [in cities like Houston and Detroit] over time … and you look at how they've reached their peak and come down and what those cases look like as they come down, it gives us great hope."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.