Author archives: Damon Sidur

California’s Latest Travel Ban Should Be a Teachable Moment for Conservatives

by Damon Sidur , Gabby Wiggins

July 16, 2021

On June 28, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that California will add five more states to its travel ban. State-funded travel will no longer be permitted to states on this list because they passed bills that California considers “discriminatory.”

The number of states on California’s anti-travel list has been growing over the years and has now reached a total of 17, with this new addition of Florida, Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia. The ban will have an impact on public school trips, universities, teacher conferences, and any other business that public employees of the state of California may need to attend around the country.

Bonta justified the additions to the travel ban by claiming the moral high ground. “The states [banned] are a part of a recent, dangerous wave of discriminatory new bills signed into law in states across the country that directly work to ban transgender youth from playing sports, block access to life-saving care, or otherwise limit the rights of members of the LGBTQ community,” Bonta’s office explained in a press release. However, these laws are necessary to (1) preserve fair competition in women’s sports by requiring that athletes who identify as transgender participate in sports according to their biological sex, and (2) to prevent youth from making drastic, permanent life-altering decisions (like taking puberty blocking drugs) until they reach adulthood, such as Arkansas’ SAFE Act.

The first travel ban from California was introduced in 2017. Then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra signed into law Assembly Bill 1887, which prohibited a state agency, department, board, or commission from requiring any state employees, officers, or members to travel to a state that has so-called “discriminatory” laws against gender identity, expression, or sexual orientation. The first state it applied to was Oklahoma.

Oklahoma had signed into law Senate Bill 1140, which allowed private foster care/adoption agencies to use their own discretion when placing children into homes. For religious organizations, it meant that they could continue to place children only into families with a mother and a father. Neither adoption nor foster care by those identifying as LGBTQ is banned in Oklahoma; the bill simply upholds that private organizations are allowed to operate in accordance with their beliefs. However, according to advocates of the LGBTQ cause, SB 1140  discriminated against those identifying as LGBTQ. Allie Shin, the External Affairs Director of ACLU Oklahoma, stated that “Rather than stand up to religious fanaticism, the Governor has chosen to reinforce the delusions of those who confuse discrimination with liberty.” Shortly after, California enacted AB1887.

However, Becerra didn’t stop at just Oklahoma. Over the course of the next several years, he signed laws prohibiting state-funded travel to Texas, Alabama, Idaho, Iowa, South Carolina, South Dakota, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. All of these states have passed laws similar to Oklahoma’s or that fall under the category of LGBTQ issues.

Blocking state-funded travel to a third of the country comes with consequential economic impacts. Lisa Hermes, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce in McKinney, Texas, said that “the state could lose out on as much as $1 billion dollars of economic impact if the NCAA canceled its events currently slated to take place in Texas — such as the 2024 College Football Playoff National Championship game set for Houston and the 2023 Women’s Final Four in Dallas.” In Louisville, Kentucky, the city lost over $2 million in revenue after two companies canceled events they were going to hold there. Even Nashville, which is a left-leaning city, was impacted after the American Counseling Association canceled a meeting they had scheduled, which would have brought 3,000 visitors to the state (and business to hotels and restaurants to boot) and would have brought in $4 million worth of tax revenue.

While these new bans by California are obviously more harmful than helpful, they are also a dangerous example of the level that the Left will stoop to in order to make a large statement. It’s hard to argue against the fact that by shutting down state-funded travel to 17 states, California’s stances on issues like transgenderism are getting lots of attention. This travel ban is one of many ways that the Left is forcing culture to align with their agenda. There’s also issues like the MLB moving its All-Star Game out of Georgia because of pressure from the Left.

With all of this happening in the culture around us, what is our role as Christians and conservatives? The Left is following through on what they say they’re going to do, and it’s having an economic impact. How should we respond? We need to follow through on our beliefs as well and use God’s word as the basis for our decisions and actions. As Christians, we need to firmly take a stand not just with our words, but with our actions by using our hard-earned money to make an economic impact for biblical values just as the Left is making an economic impact with their policies. As believers, we can do this by supporting companies and organizations that align with our biblical values.

Gabby Wiggins is a Brand Advancement intern at Family Research Council.

Damon Sidur is a Communications intern at Family Research Council.

The Church’s Central Role in Public Health

by Damon Sidur , Sophia Lorey

July 12, 2021

In March 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, church doors were closed—most voluntarily in response to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommendation—for the sake of public health and the unknown. Unfortunately, in retrospect, we are learning that closing churches for extended periods hurt public health in some ways, even as it protected it in others. Studies by the CDC now show that depression and suicide rose dramatically for teens and young adults, an age demographic considered to be at lower risk from COVID-19.

As the pandemic progressed, churches that had closed their doors voluntarily remained closed by state and local government mandates, with the aim of slowing the spread of COVID-19 and hopefully saving lives. Although most pastors willingly cooperated at first, it was not long until they began to see the negative repercussions of a prolonged closure, and many decided to reopen in spite of government mandates.

As the media pushed their round-the-clock coverage of COVID-19 deaths, they failed to address another health crisis facing the United States: death by suicide. Due to isolation, loss of jobs, fear, and other factors, depression, anxiety, and suicide rates skyrocketed in 2020, especially in teens and young adults. CDC Director Robert Redfield discussed in a Buck Institute webinar that suicides and drug overdoses have surpassed the death rate for COVID-19 among high school students. However, it was not just high school students that were being affected. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that:

substance use and suicidal ideation are particularly pronounced for young adults, with 25% reporting they started or increased substance use during the pandemic (compared to 13% of all adults), and 26% reporting serious thoughts of suicide (compared to 11% of all adults).

In May of 2019, 11 percent of adults 18 and over suffered from symptoms of anxiety disorder and/or depressive disorder, according to the CDC. In May of 2020, this number tripled as the CDC reported 34.52 percent of adults 18 and over suffered from symptoms of anxiety disorder and/or depressive disorder. Thus, the COVID-19 pandemic created a secondary crisis that the church could do little to help resolve while being shut down.

In a world full of hopelessness, the Bible offers genuine hope. Churches across America provide this hope by preaching the Word of God while also providing peace, community, encouragement, and so much more. Yet, their doors were closed during the pandemic, hampering their ability to fellowship and to serve. Theologically speaking, this is why Hebrews 10:25 commands us to gather for corporate worship: “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” As the pandemic and the mandatory closures stretched on, there was a need for churches to be open, and many pastors saw this and began to take a stand.

Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills addressed the increasing mental health issues as the church doors remained closed. On May 5, 2020, in a message directed towards all pastors in California, Hibbs observed that although churches can reach an immense amount of people online, “our local community has been spiritually starving.” He also underscored how the church needs to be a community again and be together now more than ever to provide prayer and hope for all those struggling. Opening his church in May of 2020 was difficult for Hibbs, as he defied California Governor Gavin Newsom’s restrictions, which were unjustly singling out churches and burdening them more extensively than their secular counterparts.

However, the response to the reopening of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills was overwhelming. His congregation grew quickly by the thousands, drawing people desperate for hope and Christ during the nationwide shutdown. While reaching people online was possible and important, our souls yearn for an in-person community. It is now clear that forcing churches to close for so long has had unintended consequences.

Thankfully, in February 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the complaints of California churches like Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena that claimed they were being unjustly discriminated against, lifting the state government’s ban on indoor worship.

While the world focused on the physical health crisis created by COVID-19, many overlooked the mental and spiritual health crisis it also created. In God’s gracious provision to His followers, He gave us the church. If the pandemic has taught us anything, surely it is that gathering for corporate worship and fellowship with other believers is essential—and a privilege we should never take for granted.

Damon Sidur is a Communications intern at Family Research Council.

Sophia Lorey is a Brand Advancement intern at Family Research Council.

This Year, It Is More Important Than Ever to Celebrate Our Independence

by Damon Sidur

July 6, 2021

Independence Day has been celebrated in our nation for nearly 250 years, but this year’s celebration should feel different from years past. While many are hopeful about a post-pandemic future, we should think about how many of us saw our liberties seriously challenged by the government over the past year.

Like in Nevada, where the U.S. Supreme Court denied Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley’s request to strike down the state’s unconstitutional 50-person cap on church services in July 2020. Nevada enforced this cap on houses of worship even as it allowed casinos and other types of businesses to operate at 50 percent capacity. Justice Gorsuch said in his dissent of the Nevada ruling, “The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges. But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesar’s Palace over Calvary Chapel.”

Thankfully, the courts have more recently begun siding with churches that were unfairly singled out by state and local mandates. In November 2020, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the state of New York could not unfairly target and restrict church gatherings. While these positive court rulings should inspire hope for the future of religious liberty in America, the jurisprudence and the actions taken by government authorities throughout this past year should still be on our minds as we celebrate America’s independence.

We should consider how much of our freedom we are willing to give away in exchange for the government’s promise of protection. Benjamin Franklin’s answer to that question was: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” This pandemic provided an opening for state and local governments to challenge our freedoms—most significantly our freedom of worship and assembly—in unprecedented ways. In California, churches were asked to submit to stringent restrictions that stated, “Places of worship must, therefore, discontinue singing and chanting activities and limit indoor attendance to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower.” Although the government does have a role during these times, as the Supreme Court stated in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Andrew Cuomo, “Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”

Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote in 1998, “It is neither desirable nor is it remotely likely that civil liberty will occupy as favored a position in wartime as it does in peacetime…the laws will thus not be silent in time of war, but they will speak with a somewhat different voice.” However, the entire point of natural rights is that they are universal and objective. Violating them does not become any more justifiable in times of crisis.

When the pandemic began, Americans were initially encouraged to quarantine for two weeks to slow the spread. Most churches and businesses voluntarily closed their doors and accepted what they believed would be a temporary shutdown. Instead, even once houses of worship could safely reopen with COVID precautions in place, churches spent much of last year appealing to courts for relief from unequal treatment and unconstitutional restrictions on worship. Thankfully, the courts eventually sided with churches and agreed that First Amendment protections cannot be violated in the name of public health and safety, nor can churches be treated more severely than secular businesses.

Independence Day should be more than a day off from work to set off fireworks and eat apple pie. This year, in particular, should be a day of reflection for all of us as we acknowledge and give thanks for the blessing of living in the greatest and freest country in the world. If we want it to stay that way, we must take a stand in the face of fear and protect the rights granted to us by God, fought for in 1776, enshrined in our Bill of Rights, and through our history, finally fulfilled for all Americans.

Damon Sidur is a Communications intern at Family Research Council.

Archives