Tony Perkins / May 23, 2020

A Labor of Faith-Based Love

From hero to homeless. It wasn’t the life that veteran Randall Sarratt imagined. But, like so many of our brave men and women, leaving the military only meant facing a new battle at home.

From hero to homeless. It wasn’t the life that veteran Randall Sarratt imagined. But, like so many of our brave men and women, leaving the military only meant facing a new battle at home. For six years he lived on the streets, trying to scrape together enough money to survive. Then, a meeting with a California charity changed his life. He applied for a housing voucher, then a job – all with help from the Department of Labor’s Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program. They bought Randall clothes, a new suit and tie, even a bus pass. It was, he said, “the best decision ever” to get help. And thanks to the DOL’s partnership with groups like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, Easter Seals, Catholic Charities, and others, he won’t be the only one.

Today, Randall is a “model tenant.” He’s off the streets, happily employed, and setting an example so impressive that his landlord is thinking of taking in more veterans through HVRP program. A lot of that wouldn’t have been possible without faith-based groups and charities. Together with the Labor Department, their outreach isn’t just having a huge impact on homelessness – but job training, substance abuse recovery, youth leadership, the opioid epidemic, and more. And, more often than not, those religious partners have been effective in ways government agencies are not.

That’s why, Secretary Eugene Scalia says, the department needs more involvement with the faith community – not less. And, late last week, he cleared the way for his agency to accomplish that – issuing an important memo on the value of religious liberty to his employees and DOL partners. For freedom-loving Americans, it’s huge step forward. To Scalia, it’s just another day in the office. “I guess in some ways,” he told me on “Washington Watch,” “it’s surprising to me that this is surprising to others… It shouldn’t be news, but it is.”

Religious freedom “is so fundamental to society,” he said, that we shouldn’t need to release memos like the Department of Labor’s. “But as important as religion and religious liberty are in our society, we know that in … some of the most sophisticated and powerful quarters of our society, religion is something that’s looked on dimly and is under attack in certain respects. And so, this memo we issued is just one of a number of things that the administration is trying to do to push back and protect religious liberty.”

With this latest guidance, Secretary Scalia joins a slew of Trump agencies like Justice, HHS, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Education, and even USAID in making sure that faith-based groups are on equal footing with everyone else. After eight years of being treated like second-class citizens under the previous administration, Scalia is asking his team to “incorporate respect for religious freedom” back into his department’s daily operations – including decisions like grant awards.

“If there’s not a thoughtful defense of Americans’ religious liberty – which, needless to say, is a liberty for people of all faiths – then that freedom will be eroded,” Scalia warned. It could be subtle at first, but in the end, the gradual wear and tear affects everyone – especially people like Randall, who benefit from the services the church provides.

One of the things Scalia is trying to change is the Obama-era hostility toward these faith-based groups competing for federal dollars. “[The previous administration] had a rule that said that if you were a federal grantee providing services, let’s say, to the homeless, and you happened to be a religious organization – and of course, we know that it’s part of the fabric of so many different faiths to help the poor, help the needy. But this rule said that if you’re a religious organization seeking to help the poor and needy and taking federal grants, you have to provide a special warning to recipients of that aid that you believe in God – and even tell them how to complain if you try to proselytize. And these were burdens only put on religious organizations.” That’s the kind of open and unconstitutional discrimination his agency is working to weed out.

There are a lot of hurting people right now, Scalia pointed out. Thirty-eight million people filing unemployment in the pandemic alone. “As we seek to help them, we should welcome in religious organizations – not make it harder for them. And that includes respecting when those religious organizations [are] deciding who’s going to work there. Preserving the faith within the religious organization is important to the faith itself… We want religious institutions to keep their identity while also providing help to the public and helping the federal government in doing so.”

Our deepest gratitude to Secretary Scalia – and all of the administration’s men and women – who are doing their part to rebuild our legacy of liberty.

Originally published here.

The Sunday Best… and Worst of Reopening

Chicago has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country – and what is the police department doing? Ticketing churches. That’s how Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) is prioritizing his law enforcement’s time despite what cops are calling “a double whammy” during the crisis. “We’re catching it double. We have the virus and the violence to worry about.” But who has time for real criminals when a handful of God-fearing people are meeting? Not Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

“I know that we all have a passionate desire to return to the sense of normalcy that we felt before," Pritzker said. But, "until we have a vaccine, or an effective treatment, or enough widespread immunity that new cases fail to materialize, the option of returning to normalcy doesn’t exist.” Of course, Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church isn’t asking for a return to normalcy. All they and other area congregations want is a chance to meet responsibly. Under Illinois’s current order, that’s next to impossible with a gathering limit of 10 people. That’s not a church service – it’s a staff meeting!

Tired of waiting and even more frustrated by the unreasonable guidance, three churches took matters into their own hands, hosting extremely scaled down services May 17. The next thing they knew, the Chicago police were at their doors – passing out $500 fines. For the pastors, who’d taken great pains – probably greater than most essential businesses – to keep their sanctuaries safe, the punishment was astounding. At Philadelphia Romanian Church of God, only 75 people were allowed to attend – less than 10 percent of its capacity – and every one of them had to meet 13 health and age requirements first. Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Metro Praise International were also cited.

“If that’s what it takes to continue our mandate to serve our people, then it’s a price we are willing to pay,” Pastor Cristian Ionescu insisted. But thanks to millionaire businessman Willie Wilson, not one of the congregations will be forced to foot the bill. “I’m going to pay the fine for these three churches," Wilson announced, who "dared to worship” in spite of the mayor and governor’s intimidation. “It is shameful that the church is discriminated against,” he fumed, “while liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, and Home Depot are treated as essential businesses.”

In Minnesota, pastors are taking a page out of Ionescu’s book and thousands of California churches by moving forward – with or without their state’s permission. Out of respect, both the state’s Catholic Conference and the Lutheran Church have given Governor Tim Walz (D) and state Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) a heads-up that regardless of their absurd limits, their doors would open this weekend.

Both denominations have Becket attorneys on standby in case the Democrats try to stop them. In a letter to Walz and Ellison, they write, “Now that you have determined that current circumstances allow the partial reopening of almost every ‘critical’ and ‘non-critical’ Minnesota business with appropriate safeguards, there is no valid, non-discriminatory reason to continue the blanket closure of churches. To the contrary, basic equality and honest science – not to mention the special solicitude afforded to religious freedom under both the federal and Minnesota constitutions – require the end of this discriminatory policy and restoration of desperately needed in-person worship.”

To his credit, Massachusetts’s Governor Charlie Baker ® decided to avoid a messy PR battle and heeded the warnings of DOJ to level the playing field for churches. “The Department of Justice has made very clear to a number of states that people’s ability to access church and practice their faith is a constitutional question that they are pushing people at the state level pretty hard on," he told a local news outlet. "I couldn’t ignore that.”

Nor can they ignore the president, who Thursday – minutes after joining FRC’s National Pastors Roundtable – sent a pointed message to the politicians hiding behind their lockdown orders. Talking to reporters before his flight, President Trump made it clear some states are on thin ice. “The churches are not being treated with respect by a lot of the Democrat governors," he argued. "I want to get the churches open, and we’re going to take a very strong position on that very soon…” They’re “essential,” he went on. “Churches, to me, they’re important in terms of the psyche of our country.” Sure, he said, “It’s wonderful to sit at home and watch something on a laptop, but it can never be the same as being in a church and being with your friends, and they want to have it open. And I think that’s going to be happening very shortly…”

Originally published here.

This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.

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