SALT LAKE CITY — If Americans got to choose, houses of worship would be one of the first organizations reopened when social distancing restrictions are scaled back, according to a new poll on reopening society from Scott Rasmussen.

More than one-third of registered voters (35%) said in-person church services and other religious gatherings should be opened as soon as possible. Fewer Americans said the same about schools (31%), bars and restaurants (21%) and large entertainment events, like NBA games and concerts (14%), the survey reported.

In general, Americans seem more interested in regaining opportunities to connect with each other than jump-starting the economy, Rasmussen wrote. Half of respondents said allowing people to gather in small groups at friends’ homes should be a top priority once the threat of spreading the coronavirus has decreased.

This focus on social events is “not surprising,” since many Americans are feeling isolated, bored and depressed right now, Rasmussen said.

However, people’s interest in hosting game nights or attending worship services hasn’t gotten much attention in recent debates over how and when to reopen society. Most policymakers are more focused on getting workers back to their offices than improving people’s social lives.

“The prospect of mass gathering is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday.

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The Justice Department issued a statement Tuesday highlighting the value of religious communities during difficult times, but also noting that government officials are allowed to ban large church services for as long as those gatherings pose a public safety risk.

“When the community as a whole faces an impending harm of this magnitude, and where the measures are tailored to meeting the imminent danger, the Constitution does allow some temporary restriction on our liberties that would not be tolerated in normal circumstances,” Attorney General William P. Barr wrote.

Most houses of worship in the U.S. stopped offering in-person services in mid-March, but building closures haven’t prevented religious leaders from connecting with members of their congregations in other ways.

Nearly 6 in 10 church members (57%) say their house of worship is now offering services online, according to a poll released earlier this month by the American Enterprise Institute.

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Despite many congregations’ embrace of new forms of worship, state leaders’ efforts to ban large religious gatherings remain controversial. Churches across the country have filed lawsuits challenging restrictions on large events and stay-at-home orders.

In some cases, debates over the rights of churches have become partisan. For example, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, who is a Democrat, sued state Republican leaders after they attempted to overturn her ban on gatherings larger than 10 people last week and enable Easter services to go on as planned. The Kansas Supreme Court sided with Kelly in a ruling released Saturday night.

The new Rasmussen poll shows that people’s political beliefs seems to affect how interested they are in reopening churches. Nearly half of registered Republican voters (47%) said re-opening churches should be a top priority, compared to 29% of registered Democrats.

The survey was fielded from April 9-11, 2020, and 1,200 registered voters took part. The margin of error for the full sample is 3.0 percentage points.

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