Why Our Houses of Worship Matter

Like many Americans, I tend to take for granted that we have religious freedom in this country.

Then the pandemic hit, and with it, restrictions on worship.

Personally, I thought it was illogical to only let one person at a time pray in the cavernous Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, which seats 2,500 people, at the same time art museums in San Francisco were reopening at 25 percent capacity.

When I commented on this in Facebook, I was stunned to hear a few of my friends chime in, stating that “no one needs to worship in a church,” “religion is a private matter” and, worse, that “organized religion is a sham.”

Person in church pew
Photo by Thoranin Nokyoo/Shutterstock.com

In other words, a few of my friends didn’t think there was any good reason for a church to even exist. As for organized religion itself? They thought it was anachronistic, at best.

Some in government must have felt similarly as, when a public health emergency came along, they treated religion as less essential than, say, strip clubs or pot shops.

And that’s a slippery slope—because the Bill of Rights makes freedom of religion a basic right: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Then the pandemic hit, and with it, restrictions on worship.

Last I checked, free exercise included the right to get together with others to pray. It embraces worshipping in a cathedral, a home, on a mountaintop, by yourself or with friends, and I believe in the right of others to practice their religion and worship as they see fit, whether in a cathedral or alone at home on a prayer mat.

Which is why, when California treated in-home worship as no different than birthday parties and Super Bowl get-togethers, it made sense that our Supreme Court disagreed, striking down that regulation this April.

Photo by Smileus/Shutterstock.com

Religious freedom shouldn’t be controversial. It’s a universal concept, and it’s important that people have the right to practice their religion no matter the circumstance or the times.

The state of Indiana now has passed legislation to formalize that view. It “bars state and local orders from being more restrictive on churches than on other businesses considered to be essential.”

No one is claiming that public health authorities should turn a blind eye to anyone’s safety, religious individuals included. But in an effort to be “modern,” let’s not make less of something that people have done for millennia: worship in their own way, to get through thick and thin.

I keep seeing formal worship, or worship of virtually anything, being deemed “primitive” in this enlightened era.

But I haven’t noticed that people are happier without belief. 

T. Riggs Eckelberry
When I was growing up, we lived everywhere, and to this day I can number my friends from school on one hand. I have served as a commercial ship captain, wine importer, film production manager, and above all, technologist. Today, I’m the CEO of a public company that licenses a unique technology for treating water. I believe that technology has the potential to save the world, but also to undermine our rights and our independence. The many people working in the spiritual arena are the vital counter-balance, and I’m proud to be one of these, with my wife, Sigrid.