Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has no right to tell people how or where they can worship, The Federalist’s Senior Editor Mollie Hemingway said on Fox News Friday in response to Northam’s latest restrictions on religious gatherings.
“Northam is wrong when he thinks he can instruct people how to worship,” Hemingway said. “It is a real unfortunate thing to see him trying to do this.”
“The First Amendment has not just our religious liberty but also the right of people to assemble. These are natural rights that no government can take away. Not even someone like Governor Northam,” she concluded.
Earlier this week, Northam announced new COVID-19 orders for his state, telling church-goers they don’t have to “sit in the church pew for God to hear your prayers” and blaming them for the spread of the virus throughout the state.
“This year we need to think about what is truly the most important thing. Is it the worship or the building?” the governor asked. “For me, God is wherever you are. You don’t have to sit in the church pew for God to hear your prayers. Worship with a mask on is still worship. Worship outside or worship online is still worship.”
Northam’s words, however, Hemingway said, are false teachings to many Christians.
“That is my governor telling people how to worship. Governor Northam is due honor and respect as a politician, but overstepped his role by being a teacher in the church. He is teaching something false,” Hemingway said.
“He is articulating an actual theological concept called enthusiasm that Huldrych Zwingli, who was a Swiss theologian, advanced. It is rejected by many Christians, whether they’re Lutheran like myself or Catholic or orthodox,” she explained. “It is essential to be gathered to receive the means of grace, the Lord’s Supper, which is a communal thing.”
Discouraging assembly, Hemingway said, will not only hurt Christians whose roots remain in congregating, but those of other faiths as well.
“It’s true even for people who aren’t sacramental Christians that assembly is important,” Hemingway said.
“The original word for church is ecclesia. That means assembly. It is what synagogue means, too. It has always been a public thing. Religion is a public thing and worship is a public, corporal thing. He is wrong and it does affect Muslims and Jews and Christians.”
Hemingway also said that Northam’s words were especially disheartening considering the state’s strong roots in religious freedom.
“It really is a shame because Virginia has always had so much religious liberty thanks to Thomas Jefferson. We have stronger protections than are guaranteed in the First Amendment. I wish Northam knew that,” she said. “He is beyond his role here and it is bad.”
“We just saw there was a Gallup study that came out showing people who are church-going have been better able to handle this pandemic in terms of mental health,” she added. “There are all sorts of reasons why Northam is wrong theologically or in terms of mental health as well.”