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Do Safer at Home Orders Violate the First Amendment?

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Flickr, via Creative Commons, user Alex Liivet
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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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