Trump Insists It's Open Season for Churches
Even though we’re in a presidential election year, liberals have yet to roll out their favorite catch phrase: separation of church and state! Maybe that’s because — in the wake of the coronavirus — some Democratic governors have brazenly crossed that line of “separation,” placing stricter restrictions on church gatherings than other establishments like restaurants, malls, and even casinos. But enough is enough. And on Friday, after hearing from pastors all across the country, President Trump took advantage of his bully pulpit to start getting pastors behind their own.
Calling together members of the media for a surprise briefing, the president had a message for America’s governors: Do the right thing. “…[A]llow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now for this weekend. If they don’t do it," he warned, "I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less.” Even before Friday’s press conference, the Trump DOJ has been working almost around the clock, sending attorneys into states where leaders have been less than cooperative with the First Amendment. In places like Mississippi and California, the unequal treatment has been so stunning that the attorney general himself had to personally intervene.
The president has obviously been watching these injustices, pointing out that “Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential. It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential places that provide essential services.” Then, in a nod to the risks of in-person services, he assured people that the public health was in good hands. “The ministers, pastors, rabbis, imams, and other[s] will make sure their congregations are safe as they gather.”
The CDC helped guarantee that by issuing new guidance for faith communities. The suggestions are what most Americans have come to expect during the coronavirus — everything from social distancing, masks, and deep-cleaning to no shared communion cups, hymnals, and other property. Of course, as many will point out, they’re recommendations, not requirements — knowing that the ultimate decisions rest with pastors, not the government. “Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, and acceptable, and tailored to the needs and traditions of each community of faith. The information offered is non-binding public health guidance for consideration only; it is not meant to regulate or prescribe standards for interactions of faith communities in houses of worship.”
Meanwhile, out in California, the president’s message seemed to have hit its mark. Governor Gavin Newsom (D), who’s been a thorn in every congregation’s side, finally backed off his hardline policy and paved the way for houses of worship to start welcoming people in small numbers. That’s a major victory for the state’s pastors — 1,200 of whom had already politely informed him they were moving ahead anyway. For now, the state’s health department is asking for just 25 percent of the buildings’ capacity — or 100 people, whichever is lower. If counties choose, they can impose stricter rules. But at least for now, Newsom is changing his tune.
Of course, the far-Left — who’s enjoyed keeping Christians locked up and away from society — can’t stand the idea that the president’s strongest base may soon be reunited. Some members of the liberal media are even trying to paint Trump’s directive as the move of a desperate president. In the New York Times, Peter Baker insisted that by treating churches like every other organization, the president is somehow “wading into the culture wars.” That, in the end, these congregations aren’t “essential” to anything but Trump’s political future.
Politico followed the Times into the mud, arguing that the president only did this to “safeguard his relationship with religious conservatives.” Both are wrong. I know it’s hard for the cynical, cultural elite to understand, but anyone who’s spent any time at all watching the Trump administration for these past three and a half years knows that the president’s commitment to religious liberty isn’t a gimmick. It’s not a campaign shtick. It’s an honest-to-goodness, top-to-bottom administration priority that he’s made good on at every possible moment. Suggesting that he wants to reopen churches to mine votes in November isn’t just shoddy journalism, it’s absurd.
Frankly, the whole idea of in-person worship shouldn’t even be controversial — let alone partisan! It’s simply treating churches, mosques, and synagogues the same as everyone else. If that’s “firing a salvo in the culture war,” then our country’s in trouble. Because going to church isn’t Republican. It isn’t Democratic. It's American. And the minute we think otherwise, we’ve lost.
Originally published here.
Sunday Suits: New Bill Saves Churches Court Drama
If there’s one thing that everyone can admit about this virus, it’s how impossible it would be to tackle without churches. From the president to his cabinet secretaries and needy people on the ground, there’s one refrain that keeps echoing across this crisis: ministry, from even the smallest of communities, makes all the difference. “The federal government can provide a role,” Secretary Chad Wolf agreed. But having been on the ground and seeing the deep need, he knows, “it’s the faith-based organizations… that are the backbone of the response.” And now, more than ever, we need to protect them.
As churches and charities race to deliver diapers, clothing, food, money, supplies, and even medical help to thousands of victims, the last thing they should worry about is being sued for their outreach. “Our churches shouldn’t be penalized for doing the right thing,” Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) told Sarah Perry on “Washington Watch.” “Our faith-based communities have been at the forefront of providing help and services to those in need… [they need] the assurance to [operate] with confidence by providing an extra layer of legal protections for them.”
In her new bill, the Service Assurance Act, Vicky wants to make it clear that a nonprofit can’t be held liable for any “act or omission… with respect to any harm arising from exposure to, or infection by, the virus that causes COVID-19 during a public health emergency with respect to COVID-19.” Obviously, if that harm is caused by recklessness or negligence, then that’s a different matter — as her plan notes — but groups like Samaritan’s Purse or the Salvation Army can’t afford to be sidetracked “by those who would use this pandemic in order to make some extra money.”
Sadly, Vicky shakes her head, “there are some people out there, some vultures in certain law professions, that just look for opportunities for lawsuits. Even if they’re baseless, they’re hopeful that the organization will settle, and they’ll get some money along the way. But, you know, our nonprofits and our churches, they don’t have extra money. And even the threat of litigation will cause many of them to shutter. We cannot allow that. So it’s vital that we get this bill passed.”
In what Vicky called a “God thing,” the president happened to come out strongly in favor of churches reopening just as she was dropping this bill. Altogether, she believes, “[it] sends a very strong message across this country that faith matters, that the leaders in this country understand and appreciate the role of faith in this country. And we’re going to protect it and enable us to continue to go forth without fear of lawsuits.”
And that’s a priority, she’s careful to point out that GOP leadership shares. Both House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed that if there’s a next phase in stimulus relief “healthcare workers, small businesses, and other Americans on the front lines of this fight must receive strong protections from frivolous lawsuits.” Fortunately for them — and for us — Vicky Hartzler is already on it.
Originally published here.
This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.