View this email in your browser
COVID-19: Exploring Faith Dimensions
Court Battles and Clergy Roles in Stopping the Spread of COVID-19

A major event coloring tensions about restrictions on religious gatherings for public health grounds was this week's 5-4 ruling of the United States Supreme Court in support of two religious organizations: the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish group. Both objected to stringent limits on religious gatherings in particularly hard-hit neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The majority opinion argued that the COVID-19 restrictions limiting attendance of religious services imposed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's executive order violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. This decision is generating lively debate. It was met with dismay by some, including Jeffery Sachs, who wrote “the court proved the dangers of scientifically illiterate judges overturning government decisions that were based on scientific evidence.” In a strikingly similar case in France, the Council of State has ordered that Prime Minister Jean Castex modify a 30-person attendance limit for religious services, which faced opposition as arbitrary and unreasonable. Across Europe governments are scrambling to avoid stringent lockdowns over the Christmas holidays, putting the questions into a larger context.
The virus continues to claim lives, however, including among religious communities. The situation is becoming dire in the Balkans, where just three weeks after presiding at the funeral of Bishop Amfilohije, the Orthodox Metropolitan of Montenegro who died of COVID-19 complications, Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej succumbed to the coronavirus at a hospital in Belgrade. At the funeral for Bishop Amfilohije, who had described large religious gatherings as “God’s vaccine,” mourners kissed his remains lying in an open casket. Bishop David, a senior Orthodox Church priest who took part in the prayers at Patriarch Irinej's funeral on Sunday (which also defied public health restrictions and recommendations), has now tested positive for COVID-19. The Orthodox Church in Moldova also denounced the potential use of a vaccine against COVID-19 in May because “the global anti-Christian system wants to introduce microchips into people’s bodies with whose help they can control them, through 5G technology,” a cleric said in a press release.
Many religious leaders continue to use their platforms to encourage fellow clergy members to lead their followers to the science about vaccines and coronavirus restrictions and to promote them as ethically necessary, life-saving measures. The Poor People’s Campaign, jointly led by the Rev. William J. Barber II and the Rev. Liz Theoharis, staged a national service of eulogy and remembrance on the steps of National City Christian Church in Washington, DC, two miles from the U.S. Capitol. Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the former CEO of the Rabbinical Assembly, says “Clergy need to educate ourselves about COVID-19 vaccines, seek the advice of local medical professionals whom our communities trust, and listen to our community to understand their concerns.” Archbishop (Rtd.) Dr. Eliud Wabukala says “Our various religious associations and forums should consider enhancing their interventions in the prevention of Covid-19 through deliberate programs for rallying their flocks behind government efforts to fight the pandemic.” Pope Francis, through a recently published book Let Us Dream and op-ed published in the New York Times, continues to be an active leader in encouraging people to find hope and faith in helping each other through the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic. While not explicitly political, many have speculated that his criticisms of turning ideas like personal freedom into an ideology or of governments that tried to protect the economy first are direct condemnations of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Meanwhile, Mexico’s Roman Catholic Church announced the cancellation of what’s considered the world’s largest Catholic pilgrimage, for the Virgin of Guadalupe, due to COVID-19 concerns, and Catholic Church leaders in Kenya voiced concerns after four prominent doctors died of the coronavirus in the span of a week. Religious leaders in different world regions continue to fulfill an important role in focusing on especially vulnerable groups: an illustration is U.K. Catholic bishops urging care to prisoners during the current upsurge in COVID-19 infections.

Other stories of note this week include reflections by persons with disabilities on COVID-19 in a World Council of Churches podcast; a study of how demography may have interesting effects both with regard to COVID-19 and the future of the Catholic Church in Africa; and a group of youth activists in Thailand using digital content to combat misinformation on COVID-19. In this latter example, they also teamed up with a group of Malay Muslim young political activists on a series of short videos to mobilize various Islamic religious groups, including separatist insurgents, to embrace public health recommendations and more peaceful community relations.

Help Spread the Word
Share the sign-up form for the weekly highlights:

Share the resource repository:

If you have news articles, guides, or other relevant resources you wish to share with us for review please email We are particularly interested in learning more about groups facing acute vulnerabilities (refugees, elderly, those impacted by the digital divide, in fragile states, etc.). Please send us any information you see.
Georgetown University Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs
3307 M Street NW, Suite 200︱Washington, DC 20007

You are receiving this email because you are subscribed to the
COVID-19: Exploring Faith Dimensions mailing list.
update your preferences I unsubscribe from this list | View this email in your browser

Copyright © 2020 Georgetown University. 
All rights reserved.