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Publication Title

University of St. Thomas Law Journal


The First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause often requires courts to balance competing interests of the highest order. On the one hand, the Constitution recognizes the free exercise of religion as a fundamental right. On the other hand, the government sometimes has compelling reasons for limiting free exercise, especially in situations involving dangers to health and safety. The shutdown and social distancing orders issued during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic not only restricted free exercise but also limited what many people consider to be the core of that exercise: religious worship. But the orders did so in order to stop the spread of a deadly virus, a public health interest of the highest order. These already high constitutional stakes were further heightened by a rapidly changing pandemic, a heated presidential election, and Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court appointment, all of which fueled the fire of the culture wars. This article explores the free exercise implications of the Court’s resolution of challenges to the COVID-19 shutdown orders through these constitutional and cultural lenses.


First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Covid-19, Religion, Free Exercise of Religion, Pandemic, Constitutional Law

Publication Citation

John Inazu, COVID-19, Churches, and Culture Wars, 18 U. St. Thomas L.J. 307 (2022)