Are religious services ‘essential’ during the pandemic?

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Under new state guidelines religious services are considered public gatherings, so they are not subject to limitations in the number of attendees but other places have shut down church meetings during the pandemic. Now an Apostle from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is speaking about those restrictions.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles remotely addressed the G20 Interfaith Forum on Tuesday.

“Some government officials fail to understand how and why religion is fundamental to the lives of billons of people,” Elder Bednar said. “COVID-19 regulations have often distinguished between ‘essential’ and ‘nonessential’ activities and then treated religious activities as ‘nonessential’. This completely misconceives how vital religion is to people’s lives…It defines who and what we are, how we understand the meaning of our lives, and how we live each day. It is the source of our strength, consolation, and hope amidst sorrow, travail, and death.”

On Wednesday members of the organization Atheists of Utah reacted to Elder Bednar’s statements.

“Religion is not essential to your actual life,” AOU President Tiffany Hudson said. “It’s not an essential service like they talk about so I understand that but I don’t agree with it. I don’t think religion is essential. It’s certainly not to any of the atheists or secular people I know.”

In a time when states and counties are banning large gatherings like conventions, concerts, and sporting events, Hudson claims churches shouldn’t be given exemptions to public health guidelines.  

“To claim they are vital is a clear…violation of the separation of church and state in my mind,’ Hudson said. “There are so many things people would love to be doing right now, not just religion.”

But Elder Bednar contends that for believers, health is tied in to spiritual well-being.

“Strong connections among family, deeply held religious beliefs, and a community of faith have long been associated with better mental, emotional, and physical health. These critical connections are at risk when blanket bans are issued against religious gatherings,” he said. “Experts are documenting the rise in depression, physical and emotional abuse, suicide, and other tragedies during times of social lockdown and isolation.”

Members of Atheists of Utah say those problems are caused by the pandemic itself, not by a lack of religious gatherings.

For more information on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you can visit their website

For more information on Atheists of Utah, you can visit their website.

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