Secular Group Rebukes Michigan Governor’s Exemptions for Religious Gatherings

For Immediate Release: March 27, 2020
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director - (207) 358-9785

Exempting churches from statewide prohibitions on public gatherings due to the coronavirus undermines the very purpose of such restrictions, said the Center for Inquiry in a letter to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, warning that making special exceptions for religious assemblies is both dangerous and constitutionally baseless.

An executive order signed by Gov. Whitmer states that “all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring among persons not part of a single household are prohibited,” but adds, “a place of religious worship, when used for religious worship, is not subject to penalty.”

The Center for Inquiry (CFI), an organization that advances reason and science in public policy, sent a letter to the governor questioning the rationale behind this special exception for religious gatherings, signed by Jennifer Beahan, Executive Director of CFI Michigan, and Nick Little, Vice President and Legal Counsel of the national Center for Inquiry. The full letter can be read here.

“There is nothing about the walls of a church, temple, or mosque which makes those inside it immune from catching the novel coronavirus, and returning to spread it to their friends, colleagues, and family,” write Beahan and Little. “To allow religious gatherings clearly defeats the purpose of the Executive Order—the flattening of the curve of infections.”

Gov. Whitmer has cited the separation of church and state as the reason for exempting religious in-person gatherings, but as Beahan and Little point out, there is no basis for this in either the United States or Michigan constitutions. 

“The governor’s obligation to the people of Michigan is to treat all of us equally and do what she can to keep us safe. If she doesn’t put the same restrictions on churches as she does on schools, restaurants, and all other non-essential businesses, then she’s undermining the very purpose of having restrictions at all,” said CFI Michigan’s Beahan. “Gov. Whitmer absolutely has the authority to limit religious gatherings during a pandemic, and for the sake of all Michiganders—including and especially those who would attend such a gathering—she must exercise it.”

“This pandemic is in the process of overwhelming every aspect of American life. The only hope we have of enduring this crisis is to slow the disease’s spread by staying the hell away from each other. This special exception makes absolutely no sense, because the virus simply doesn’t care if a gathering is a religious one. It will spread just as easily among churchgoers as it will among shoppers, audiences, and meetings of CFI Michigan.”

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at