Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Quarantine and Religious Freedom: A Reflection

I’m sure we have heard of the infamous case in Kentucky where the police took down license numbers of people attending religious services—with critics reporting that the people involved were sitting in their cars and not in their pews. Depending on what sources you read, it might indeed a heavy-handed response, especially considering how judges are treating the invented “right” to abortion supersedes the need to practice quarantine. Given that the freedom of religion is actually in the Constitution, there’s certainly reason to object to how justly the laws are enforced. However, there was more to the story. Some 50 people happened to be inside the Church, in addition to those inside their vehicles… a fact that critics did not mention.

Combined with selective reporting, we also need to consider the fact that there are some rather stupid conspiracy theories going around right now. I’ve seen sites imply that the restrictions on religion is a politically motivated attempt to eliminate the freedom of religion. I’ve seen arguments that try to equate the Kentucky action with the Nazi persecution of the Jews. The common phrase I’m seeing is “This is how it all begins.”

I would like to point out the existence of the Fallacy of False Analogy. This fallacy compares two events and draws a common conclusion between them when, in fact, the differences between the two events are greater than the similarities. So, the attempts to compare the Kentucky case with the Nazis overlooks a huge difference: That our quarantine is aimed at stopping the spread of a disease that has killed ~26,000 people in the United States (~127,000 worldwide) and spreads more widely and quickly than the flu, while the Nazis were looking to turn the population of Germany against a scapegoated minority. That is a huge difference in motivation, with the similarity of “government targets religious believers” being drastically different in tactics. The two are not similar, and it’s insulting to those actually suffering from persecution to suggest it is.

Of course, the freedom of religion is a Constitutional Right. But all rights must be practiced in prudence. In times when the close gathering of persons does harm, the state does have time to make certain that those who will not self-isolate will not harm others from their lack of prudence. But the state does not have the right to take unreasonable measures. Whether or not attending a parking-lot church service from within cars depends on how cautious the participants are.

If the state exceeds its authority (and I must say I don’t think highly of that action in Kentucky) then it must be opposed in a just way (i.e. not endangering others while doing so). The Catholic Church has policed itself with prudence in the past and strives to do so now. So, any attempts to protest the state must take this into account.

But let’s face it. Plagues are passing things. Eventually they do burn themselves out. The question is how many people die before a vaccine is discovered or it stops spreading? The interest in defending life requires us to avoid needless risks in catching it or spreading it to others. The Golden rule requires us to do unto others as we would have them do to us. Want to avoid having some idiot spreading the disease to you? Don’t act in a way that would risk exposing others if you unwittingly carry it. Since the fatality rate seems to currently be 4.25% of the number of cases (the flu has a death rate of less than 1%), and because people are contagious before they know they have it, prudence and prudent application of laws must take this into account. Even if we don’t catch a fatal case ourselves, we could pass it on to a stranger… or a loved one.

So, in dealing with the quarantine, let’s consider the consequences and how our own actions might affect others. You might think that’s obvious, but people do have a tendency to think that it can’t happen to them or that if it does, it will be minor. They have a tendency to think in terms of themselves and not others. Unfortunately, that’s the way of fallen human nature.

Catholics in their moral teaching considers the harm to others in the commandment, Thou shalt not kill. We don’t get to risk others just because we don’t happen to feel sick. But we’ll always have somebody who’s insensitive enough to think that they’re not sick enough to need to stay home. Or someone scrupulous enough that they’ll think that they’re not sick enough to justify staying home. When the Church teaches that people should stay home when sick, these people invariably show up when they shouldn’t. Then—when the Pope and bishops suspend the public celebration of the Mass—people complain when the Church makes staying home mandatory.

Real attacks on religious freedom do need to be addressed. But sometimes what we call attacks may turn out to be the government dealing with idiots. Let’s keep that in mind and not become martyrs in our own delusions, claiming we are persecuted if it turns out we are merely being cited for endangering others.

No comments:

Post a Comment