Illiberal Religious Communities Struggle to Comply With COVID-19 Public Health Regulations

By: Shai Stern


PDF: A World of Their Own


The COVID-19 pandemic did not eliminate existing social tensions; rather, it at times intensified them. Thus, it is unsurprising that the tension between the liberal state and illiberal religious communities likewise intensified, as those communities were late to comply with COVID-19 public health regulations issued by state authorities. This Article suggests that alongside the behavioral and psychological explanations for individual non-compliance, illiberal religious communities’ late response to the COVID-19 threats stems out of these communities’ unique characteristics and deeply held norms. It provides five explanations supporting this argument and argues that all result from the interventionist liberal-centric policies embraced by most Western states for dealing with illiberal religious communities.

Since COVID-19 is not expected to be the last health-related crisis, and as other environmental, economic, or security emergencies may still require social adherence to government regulations, liberal states should rethink their policies toward illiberal religious communities. The ability to harness those communities to comply with life-saving regulations may not only save lives within these communities but also reduce threats to areas and neighborhoods adjacent to those communities. This Article suggests that the isolation and fortification processes that illiberal religious communities engage in may be mitigated if states embrace pluralistic-centric policies regarding illiberal religious communities.