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Local Voices — Where did our religious freedom go?

Not having the luxury of sports or entertainment to distract me during this pandemic has afforded me some extra time to pray and contemplate the present Covid-19 situation.

Gov. Tom Wolf seemingly has the legal authority (although I question the legitimacy) to shut down all nonessential businesses in an attempt to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

At first, it seemed a prudent plan. However, as the days and weeks dragged on, with no end in sight, one nagging question kept coming to mind. Have we also given Gov. Wolf moral authority over us as well?

Churches have been closed and a limited number of people can gather at a time, with social distancing to worship outside our churches.

After all, our governor claims that his main concern is the safety of all Pennsylvania citizens.

Yet, he’s destroying life at its beginning, making abortion clinics essential. How can preserving life and destroying it at the same time make any sense? Can he really be trusted in guiding us during this crisis? What happened to our constitutional right to freedom of religion and the right to assemble? Are we not free to practice our faith?

Christ once was given a coin with Caesar’s inscription on it and was asked whether it was legal to pay tax to Caesar or not. His response was “give to Caesar (state) what belongs to Caesar (state) and give to God what belongs to God.”

I feel fairly certain that Christ did not come to earth to be locked behind closed, locked doors. This is a time when we need Christ the most, especially in the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation. This is our lifeblood as Christians that give us the courage and perseverance to face life’s daily difficulties.

Yet our church leaders seem complicit with the governor’s plan.

Why do we not have at least the choice of attending church services or not? Are we not responsible enough to make those decisions?

We, the faithful in Blair County have demonstrated our ability to be responsible by wearing masks, social distancing, etc., as evidenced by the very few cases of Covid-19 in our county.

Do not most of us go grocery shopping? Yet we have not seen a spike in Covid-19 cases.

Can we not do the same in our churches? Can we not decide for ourselves how much risk we wish to take by attending church services while continuing with the above precautions? Do government leaders and church leaders not trust us? Or is it merely government control?

We do realize as Christians that God is everywhere and that we can pray to him anywhere, anytime. In addition, the church is much more than just a building. It’s the people in the church. But do we not derive strength and courage from worshipping and sharing together and receiving God’s grace through the sacraments?

Lest anyone feel that I am naive of the gravity of the Covid-19 infection, know that I am a health care worker on the front lines, along with all my health care colleagues (nurses, EMTs,) serving our fellow citizens with great faith and courage without fear. Shouldn’t our church leaders do the same? Where is their courage? Christ even admonishes us to “Be not afraid.”

God has given us free will to worship and to receive him in the sacraments. Why should we be restricted and limited? Why should the government and church leaders dictate to us whether we are allowed to attend church services as long as we do it responsibly? Why do we not even have the choice?

Isn’t it time to stop this insanity? There comes a time when we need to stand up for our religious freedom and for our faith. We have all made it to this point in our lives, by the grace of God, without the government dictating our lives and our every move.

To this end, I am proposing that all citizens, especially Christians, call, write, text, email, etc., the governor’s office, health officials and local church leaders demanding our religious freedom back.

I know attending church services can be done safely.

Perhaps separate services for people over age 65 or more frequent services that would attract smaller crowds while still practicing social distancing, wearing masks or sanitizing our seats in church with our own sanitizing solution. I would even go so far as to sign a disclaimer upon entering the church not holding the church responsible for any illness that may occur by attending the service.

I truly believe that if there is a will to defeat this virus, then there is a way.

Dr. Greg Sweeney resides in Duncansville.

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