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Do Safer at Home Orders Violate the First Amendment?

Flickr, via Creative Commons, user Alex Liivet

The city of Chattanooga reversed course last week, allowing church services to take place via radio or other remote means in place of in-person services that have been discouraged under stay-home orders. The decison came after a church sued the city, saying the original restrictions infringed on the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom to observe one's religion.

In Idaho earlier this month, anti-government activist Ammon Bundy raised related concerns about stay-home orders that ban gatherings. He claims the orders breach another First Amendment freedom: peaceable assembly.

Despite a recent smattering of small protests that take issue with stay-home orders on constitutional grounds, most Americans think we're pretty much where we need to be. An Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs poll found 61 percent of respondents think "safer at home" orders are appropriate for the unusual circumstances of COVID-19. 26 percent thought current restrictions don't go far enough.

But what are the constitutional implications of restricting public gatherings or church services? What chances would a lawsuit have on First Amendment grounds? WUOT's Brandon Hollingsworth asked Stewart Harris, a constituonal scholar and host of Your Weekly Consitutional.

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