Florida’s stay-at-home order shouldn’t exempt religious services

Religious gatherings draw large crowds with the potential to spread COVID-19. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

On Wednesday afternoon, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) enacted a stay-at-home order throughout the state after weeks of reluctance to do so. 

It became the 31st state to issue such an order after many parts of Florida, including Hillsborough County, had already done so.

Despite taking this crucial step to flatten the curve and save lives, this order has a deadly flaw that will certainly lead to preventable coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and potential deaths.

During DeSantis’ announcement of the order, he said that he’ll only allow businesses to stay open that are “necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities.”

However, DeSantis’s order has a religious exemption that allows “religious services, churches, synagogues and other houses of worship” to continue unchecked.

Religious gatherings often create large crowds and thus have the potential to expose many people to COVID-19.

Unfortunately, Florida is among 11 other states with such an exemption out of the 31 states that have stay-at-home orders. 

These kinds of exemptions are irresponsible and allow religious leaders all over the country to disproportionately put Florida’s older population at serious risk of becoming infected.

A study from Gallup based on data from 2016-2018 found that 57 percent of baby boomers were members of a church compared to only 42 percent of millennials.

Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, who heads a large congregation in Tampa, was one of a few pastors this past Sunday who held church services endangering their congregants.

Howard-Browne claimed on his Facebook page that COVID-19 had been “blown way out of proportion.”

Howard-Browne was arrested Tuesday for violating a public health emergency order by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Chad Chronister, who shares parties with DeSantis, explained the justifications for the arrest in a press conference.

“I believe there is nothing more important than faith… but practicing those beliefs has to be done safely,” Chronister said. 

Practicing religious traditions is sacred to many Floridians, but during this difficult and uncertain period, the religious community needs to find alternatives to massive gatherings to take part in their traditions. 

It is easier than ever for individuals to get together online and take part in religious services in that manner. Some churches in Hillsborough County have already begun to livestream their services on Facebook and other social networks.

Gov. DeSantis can show his respect for communities of faith in Florida while also ensuring that he doesn’t give carefree pastors like Howard-Browne a pass to put our population at risk. He must amend his order to prevent these risky public gatherings.

Jared Sellick is a senior majoring in political science.