These States Banned Religious Gatherings But Kept Liquor Stores Open

A church banner in Macedonia, Ohio, advertises online services during closure of in-person assemblies due to Coronavirus precautions, March 25, 2020.

By Mary Margaret Olohan Published on May 13, 2020

A number of states banned religious gatherings due to the coronavirus but have allowed liquor stores to remain open.

Governors in California, Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Illinois, New York and Vermont prohibited in person religious gatherings through stay-at-home orders implemented as the coronavirus took hold of the United States, data from the Pew Research Center shows. Some of these states have since begun the process of reopening that loosens restrictions on religious gatherings.

But when governors initially banned religious gatherings, liquor stores remained opened in California, Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Illinois, New York and Vermont.

Church goers in several of these states have fought against orders banning religious services: in California, pastors announced Thursday that they will not wait for phase three of the state’s reopening plan but will open on May 31, according to the San Bernardino County Sun.

The pastors’ announcement followed a Tuesday ruling from a California judge saying that Newsom has the right to ban church assemblies during the pandemic.

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Some, like Republican Idaho state representative and senior pastor Tim Remington, say these orders violate First Amendment rights and continue to hold religious gatherings.

“Do you understand that this is a gimmick? It’s a test,” Remington said in an early April sermon. “I want to pass the test, so as for me and my house we’re going to serve the Lord.”

“They’ve completely overstepped their bounds,” California Pastor Tim Thompson told the Daily Caller News Foundation regarding decisions by the governors in these states to prohibit religious gatherings. “The governor should have no role.”

“The idea of separation of church and state is something I was taught even as a child in public school system,” Thompson said. “The whole purpose of separation of church and state is because we escaped tyranny. We escaped a state run church. And that was why we had the revolutionary war in the first place — escaping tyranny and religious persecution.”

“The whole purpose the American experiment is to have religious liberty,” he added. “And the whole idea of separation of church and state is that the state can’t run the church. The state can’t tell the church what to do.”


Most of Washington’s alcohol sales are done in stores deemed essential for food, a spokeswoman for Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, told the DCNF.

“As you likely know, states across the U.S. had to put limits on all sorts of social and religious activities — including funerals and weddings out of concern for spreading the virus and getting people sick and potentially killing them,” spokeswoman Tara Lee told the DCNF. “We are not the only state that has done this.”

Lee noted that as of last week, Inslee opened up drive in religious services to help people “worship while practicing physical distancing” and that the state has offered accommodations for religious counseling since the beginning of the coronavirus stay-at-home orders.


Spokeswoman for Republican Idaho Gov. Brad Little, Marissa Morrison Hyer, informed the DCNF that large gatherings continue to be restricted under the Governor’s reopening plan.

But under Stage 1 of the plan, religious gatherings will not be restricted and place of worship may open “if they adhere to strict physical distancing, sanitation protocol, and any CDC guidance,” Hyer noted.

“Governor Little has heard from many, many Idahoans concerned about the limitations on their right to practice their faith,” she added.

“While social gatherings will continue to be limited throughout the four stages of reopening, it was important to the Governor to open up places of worship as early as responsibly possible, provided they follow strict physical distancing, sanitation protocol and other measures to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmissions among patrons.”


Erin Loranger, press secretary to Democratic Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, noted to the DCNF that under new coronavirus guidance, in-person church services in Montana are operating at a reduced capacity in order to allow for social distancing between non-household members.

She did not respond to further request for comment regarding Bullock’s previous order allowing liquor stores to remain open while religious gatherings were banned.


Democratic Vermont Gov. Phil Scott’s stay-at-home order did not explicitly address either liquor stores or religious services though it did allow retail operations to continue under certain precautions, Communications Director Rebecca Kelley told the DCNF.

She emphasized that “subsequent guidance” has allowed for both virtual and drive-up religious services.

“The Governor never restricted religious freedom or banned religious services,” Kelley added.

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Republican Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Democratic Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, Democratic Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker, and Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not yet respond to requests for comment from the DCNF.


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