Attorney General Curtis Hill today sent a letter to the St. Joseph County Department of Health advising local officials to refrain from threatening religious congregations with negative consequences should the congregations choose to continue meeting in person for worship services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The county health department sent a letter Oct. 13 to local religious leaders “to urge all faith communities in St. Joseph County to pivot to on-line or virtual worship formats from now through March 2021.” In the letter, the officials added vaguely that they would be “compelled to respond to any complaints we receive regarding safety concerns identified in any establishments in the county, including churches.”
Such a warning constitutes an effort, “at the very least, to chill the right of individuals to congregate in exercise of their religious freedom,” Attorney General Hill writes in his own letter to St. Joseph County health officials.
“Notwithstanding your best intentions of safeguarding public health,” he writes, “I am concerned that the letter facially targets churches and carries a thinly veiled authoritarian tone. . . . Your decision to write a threatening letter despite a ‘not conclusive’ study is a surprising and disappointing abuse of your power as county health officials. Here in Indiana, we do not govern by decrees from county officials that strip individual liberty in such a manner.”