As in the time of Babylon, there are those in power today who, like King Nebuchadnezzar, demand we bow down to an image. It is not a golden image, to be sure, but it is an image, nonetheless. It is the image of safety—the image of security.
The two weeks to stop the spread of COVID-19 has turned into an indefinite violation of our civil liberties. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki recently said that “Even after you’re vaccinated, social distancing, wearing masks are going to be essential.”
“Essential” is a crucial word. You see, for the government, wearing a mask and social distancing is essential to public health, but faith is not. Despite mountains of evidence showing how important the church community is, they insist on unconstitutionally limiting the free exercise of religion.
Friday night, the United States Supreme Court issued an injunction on California’s draconian restrictions on indoor activities for houses of worship, affirming the churches challenging the restrictions are likely to prevail on the merits of the case. That means that the restrictions are likely to be found in violation of the First Amendment.
This is good news, but it was not enough. The Court denied the appeal for an injunction “with respect to the percentage capacity limitations,” and “with respect to the prohibition on singing and chanting during indoor services.”
At least two justices recognized that those are likely also to be violations of our religious liberties. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch would have granted the injunction in full. Justice Samuel Alito also would have gone a lot further, giving the state 30 days to prove that “nothing short of those measures will reduce the community spread of COVID–19 at indoor religious gatherings to the same extent as do the restrictions the State enforces with respect to other activities it classifies as essential.”
Chief Justice Roberts concurred that “the State’s present determination—that the maximum number of adherents who can safely worship in the most cavernous cathedral is zero—appears to reflect not expertise or discretion, but instead insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake.” But he also unexplainably concluded, “that singing indoors poses a heightened risk of transmitting COVID–19.” The evidence of this does not come even close to withstand judicial review.
Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barret said the record was insufficient to make such a determination on singing, saying, “[I]f a chorister can sing in a Hollywood studio but not in her church, California’s regulations cannot be viewed as neutral,” which, of course, is precisely what the government has done time and again.
Black Lives Matter riots, good; religious gatherings, bad. Thanksgiving dinner for regular folk, really bad, but indoor dinner for liberal elites, completely fine. You get the picture.
When the government is trying to impose its power, there are always those who will point to the Christians and chastise them for not bowing down to the image of the age. In the times of King Nebuchadnezzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego defied the edict to bow down to the golden image, and they were brought before the king to be thrown into the fiery furnace.
Such is the case today. Churches are being forced all the way to the Supreme Court to fight for their religious freedoms. They ought to have a lot more support from the American public as a whole. They ought to have overwhelming support from the body of Christ— the Church at large.
But the threat of the fiery furnace is compelling to those who have their eyes set on the things of the world. Cancel culture today is an incredible incentive to comply with the Spirit of the Age.
We should learn from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego and stand against it. Remember what they told King Nebuchadnezzar as they were about to be “canceled” by the fiery furnace? “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).
Faith and faithfulness, that is how they pushed back against the evil in their time. Faith that God can and would deliver them from the hands of evildoers, but also the faithfulness to say, “even if He doesn’t, we will not bow down.”
That is exactly how we must fight today. We must be courageous in the face of evil. Trusting God and remaining faithful until the end.