Survey results released in late 2020 were a bright spot for churchgoers in an otherwise dim year. Gallup found frequent church attenders were the only group who reported gains in mental health during the year, even as most churches shut down temporarily to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Gallup’s annual health survey found 34% of Americans classify their mental health as “excellent,” which is an all-time low. But 46% of Americans who attend religious services weekly said their mental health is excellent, up from 42% last year.
As many states continued to grapple with spikes in COVID cases, the national conversation shifted to the first vaccines administered in early December. Some public health officials have reached out to faith leaders in an effort to encourage churchgoers to get vaccinated when immunizations become available.
Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, joined Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore for a Dec. 3 webinar about the vaccines. “I want to assure you as a scientist, as a physician, as a researcher who has been in the middle of all of this since January, we have done nothing to compromise in even the smallest way the safety or the efficacy standards for these vaccines,” he said.
The atheist turned Christian spoke specifically to fellow believers in Christ. “Here’s a great opportunity for Christians to say, ‘Let’s really look at the truth of the situation and evaluate what the evidence demonstrates for and against the idea that this is something I want to take advantage of myself.’”
Churches notch court victories
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said Dec. 15 that the state of Nevada’s pandemic-related restrictions treat secular events and businesses “significantly better” than worship services. The judges granted a preliminary injunction against attendance limits that are stricter for houses of worship than for other entities, including casinos.
“This is a significant win,” said David Cortman of Alliance Defending Freedom, who is representing Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley in their challenge of Nevada’s restrictions. “There is no constitutional right to gamble, but there is one that protects attending worship services. The government has a duty to respect the First Amendment, so it can’t single out churches for harsher treatment than secular activities.”
The Nevada ruling was the most recent in a string of religious liberty victories for churches challenging restrictions on worship gatherings. In November, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily barred New York from enacting certain restrictions on churches and synagogues in areas identified as COVID hotspots. In light of their ruling, the justices ordered lower courts to reconsider rulings in California, Colorado, and New Jersey concerning worship restrictions.