A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Stay-at-Home Policies Treat Mosques Same as Churches


Quick Take

A Facebook post claims that mosques have been allowed to remain open for services, while churches have not. But all places of worship are treated the same by state regulations that prohibit religious gatherings in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Full Story

In every state where religious gatherings have been prohibited in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, houses of worship are treated the same under those state policies. But a Facebook post claiming that there is a “double standard” that favors mosques over churches has been getting traction at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is observed from April 23 to May 23 this year.

The post doesn’t mention Ramadan and conflates unrelated incidents in two states, but Facebook users have interpreted it broadly, commenting, “It is happening all over the USA,” and, “Yep it’s Ramadan and everyone saw this coming.” And the evidence it presents to support its claim of a “double standard” is either false or misleading.

The post says: “City officials allow MOSQUES to stay open … while arresting Christian pastors like Tony Spell in Baton Rouge Louisiana for bussing in poor minority children to feed them at Sunday service. Double standard anyone?????

First of all, the post refers to a Louisiana pastor while using a picture of a New York mosque. Those two states have different rules.

Here we will go through the facts of each incident referred to in the post.

The pastor referenced in the post wasn’t arrested for feeding children. Tony Spell, pastor of the Life Tabernacle Church, was most recently arrested for nearly running over a man with a church bus while the man protested Spell’s continued operation of regular services despite statewide regulations limiting crowd size. Spell was charged with aggravated assault and improper backing on April 21.

“This protester walks with a cane,” Roger Corcoran, chief of police in the city of Central, Louisiana, where Spell’s church is located, said in a phone interview with FactCheck.org.

Before that, on March 31, Spell was charged with six counts of violating the state’s stay-at-home order, which limits the size of public gatherings, because he continued holding in-person services that exceeded the size limit.

“I don’t have any problems with the church,” said Corcoran, whose department filed the charges. “We have a pandemic going on… I don’t want his parishioners to get sick.”

As for the picture of the mosque featured in the Facebook post, it came from a newspaper story that was published on April 15. At the time, the mosque in Syracuse, New York, was hosting fewer than 10 worshipers at a time in a ventilated room covered in plastic while the building functioned as a “home base for a food drive,” according to the story, which also noted that Ramadan gatherings would likely be cancelled.

By the time the Facebook claim was posted on April 23, the mosque had announced the day before that it would be temporarily closed, in keeping with New York’s emergency order, and would not be hosting prayers during Ramadan.

So, the claim about the Louisiana pastor is false, and the use of the picture of a now-closed New York mosque is misleading.

Beyond that, on the first day of Ramadan, 25 largely Muslim organizations in the U.S. signed a statement from the National Muslim Task Force on COVID-19 calling on the faithful to practice social distancing and pray at home.

Among the signatories to the statement is the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a major Islamic civil liberties organization.

CAIR’s spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, told FactCheck.org in a phone interview, “I personally know of no mosques remaining open for prayers.” He also noted that all major Islamic scholars have said that preserving life is more important than going to a mosque to pray and have recommended that Muslims pray at home with their families.

Regarding the general claim of preferential treatment — which has been echoed by some other, less specific social media posts, including one that was retweeted by President Donald Trump — states that prohibit religious gatherings in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 don’t have religion-specific guidelines.

According to an analysis from the Pew Research Center, as of April 26, 10 states had prohibited religious gatherings, while 25 had restrictions on them, and 15 had exempted them from rules prohibiting gatherings.

The 10 states that prohibited religious gatherings were:

None of those states have rules that distinguished between churches and mosques in prohibiting religious gatherings in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Sperry, Paul (@paulsperry_). “Let’s see if authorities enforce the social-distancing orders for mosques during Ramadan (April 23-May 23) like they did churches during Easter.” Twitter. 14 Apr 2020.

National Muslim Task Force on COVID-19. “Joint Statement from the National Muslim Task Force on COVID-19 Regarding Ramadan.” 23 Apr 2020.

Hooper, Ibrahim. Spokesman, Council on American-Islamic Relations. Telephone interview with FactCheck.org. 23 Apr 2020.

Villa, Virginia. “Most states have religious exemptions to COVID-19 social distancing rules.” Pew Research Center. 27 Apr 2020.

Central Police Department. Arrest announcement, Mark Anthony Spell. Facebook. 21 Apr 2020.

Corcoran, Roger. Chief, Central Police Department. Telephone interview. 29 Apr 2020.