Tag archives: Health Care

Minority Neighborhoods Need Maternity Wards, Not Crack Pipes

by Joy Zavalick

February 16, 2022

The Biden administration has authorized a new $30 million grant program directing federal funds to purchase “harm reduction” supplies for drug users. It specifically targets minorities, or “underserved communities” like minority neighborhoods. Biden has defended the program by challenging rumors that the “safe smoking kits” funded by the program will contain crack pipes, although other safe smoking programs across the country have indeed distributed smoking pipes. Regardless, the question remains as to why passing out needles and smoking kits to addicts is thought to be meeting the greatest needs of minority communities.

The Biden administration seems to have missed the even deeper needs of underserved minority communities: access to grocery stores, pharmacies, and perhaps most importantly, birth wards and quality medical care. Given that February is Black History Month, there seems to be no better time than the present to consider the disproportionate lack of resources that underserved minority communities face.

Take the nation’s capital, for example. Washington, D.C.’s local government is separated into eight wards roughly equivalent in population size. Although ward boundaries are largely determined by geography, the unfortunate reality is that the wards divide the city’s population by race and socioeconomic status.

The combined population of Wards 7 and 8, which are separated from the rest of the city by the Anacostia River, is over 160,000 people, 90 percent of whom are black. Despite having population sizes roughly equivalent to the other wards, Wards 7 and 8 have a combined total of only three grocery stores. In contrast, the other six wards have a combined total of 71 (an average of 11.8 per ward). Ward 8 has only seven pharmacies to service its 80,517 residents.

There is only one hospital that services Wards 7 and 8—United Medical Center, a poorly-rated hospital that is planning to cease operating entirely by 2023. Notably, there is no hospital with a birth ward east of the Anacostia River, meaning that mothers in Wards 7 and 8 must travel across the river in order to deliver their children. This fact is especially concerning considering that Ward 8 has the highest birth rate in the city. The mortality rate for black mothers in D.C. is 71 per 100,000 live births—50 points higher than the national average of 20.1, which is already the highest rate for any developed country.

A solution to the disproportionately high black maternal mortality rate should include expanded access to the medical care that mothers and babies need to thrive. However, the abortion industry insists that the solution that will empower the black community is advancing abortion, which only ends unborn black babies’ lives. In a recent commentary on Black History Month, Planned Parenthood stated, “When restrictions are placed on birth control and family planning, Black communities bear a disproportionate burden.” For Planned Parenthood, abortion constitutes family planning.

In reality, the black population has the disproportionate burden of being targeted for abortions. Almost 80 percent of surgical abortion facilities are within walking distance of minority neighborhoods. In 2019, black babies represented 38 percent of total U.S. abortions, even though black Americans only comprise 14 percent of the U.S. population. A New York City Health Department report found that between 2012 and 2016, there were 18,299 more black babies aborted than black babies born in the city. Abortion does not empower the black population—rather, it is slowly shrinking it.

The Biden administration’s funding of “safe smoking kits” represents another failure to meet underprivileged communities in their blatantly obvious areas of deepest need. Minority communities need grocery stores, pharmacies, and real health care—not smoking kits, syringes, and abortionists waiting to kill their children.

As the United States celebrates Black History Month, the nation should pause to reflect on the current state of the union for under-resourced minority communities. Despite the immense progress made in the past century, there remain areas in which the black community is neglected or continuously targeted for harm. Initiatives like “harm reduction” programs for drug users and blocking protections for the unborn are red herrings that distract attention from the disparities in resources needed to promote human flourishing.

Progressive “Deals” Are Usually Highways Going Nowhere Quickly

by Joshua Arnold

February 7, 2022

Conservatives in Congress keep falling for the same old trick. The other side will reach across the aisle and promise to have a sincere desire for bipartisan engagement on commonsense problem-solving for the good of the American people. Conservatives will eventually take their olive branch and then, sometimes reluctantly, sometimes enthusiastically, climb on board a bus that only turns Left.

Infrastructure” Bill

The most recent example is the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed into law on November 15 after 19 Republican senators and 13 Republican representatives voted with Democrats to pass it through both chambers (six House Democrats voted “no”). It was framed as a package to fund America’s infrastructure, an issue with bipartisan support that shouldn’t be controversial. This framing helped the bill pass a narrowly-divided Congress because everyone benefits from improved infrastructure.

But not so fast, warned The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorial board. A memo from Stephanie Pollack, deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), laid out guidelines for distributing the funds that are almost as partisan as they are tedious. The memo states:

This Policy prioritizes projects that move more people and freight by modernizing and increasing the operation efficiency of existing roads and highways over projects that expand the general purpose capacity of roads and highways. Consistent with this Policy, FHWA will implement policies and undertake actions to encourage—and where permitted by law, require—recipients of Federal highway funding to select projects that improve the condition and safety of existing transportation infrastructure within the right-of-way before advancing projects that add new general purpose travel lanes serving single occupancy vehicles. (emphasis added)

The main idea this stilted, bureaucratic jargon fails to conceal is this: some projects will be prioritized over others.

On the list of winners are projects that “moderniz[e]” or “increase[e] the operation efficiency,” which is code for mass transit, or as the memo states elsewhere, “new and emerging technologies like electric vehicle charging stations.” On the list of losers are “projects that add new general purpose travel lanes serving single occupancy vehicles,” which the WSJ editors helpfully summarized: “She means cars.” In fact, before the FHWA will dispense roadway funds to help widen that over-traveled artery you take to work each day, it will “encourage—and where permitted by law, require” your state or local government to do something like add bus stops or run light rail down the median.

Thus, the “highway” funds (“only $110 billion out of $1.2 Trillion”) from the ostensibly-bipartisan infrastructure bill will benefit urban centers, where such projects are viable, over rural areas, where cars are a necessity. Part of the rationale (stated clearly in the memo) is hostility toward fossil fuels, a luxury opinion only rich urbanites can afford to indulge. But another (unstated) part of the rationale could be the growing rural-urban, red-blue political divide; the progressives who control and staff executive agencies don’t mind rewarding their allies and punishing their opponents. The WSJ editors conclude, “don’t be surprised when federal agencies continue to steer ‘bipartisan’ infrastructure funds toward progressive priorities.”

COVID-19 Relief” Bill

Of course, very few Americans care about “highways”—at most, they will care about a highway, the one they use most often. However, the case offers a particularly striking example of standard progressive tactics.

The other major bill passed into law during President Biden’s first year in office was the American Rescue Plan Act, which also passed with bipartisan support because it was framed as a COVID-19 relief measure, although much of the $1.9 trillion spent had nothing to do with coronavirus. That bill appropriated over $450 billion without making clear that these funds cannot be used to pay for abortions or go to abortion businesses. This is on top of the over $80 million that Planned Parenthood already received from the Paycheck Protection Program through previous COVID-19 relief bills. This supposedly non-controversial, bipartisan, must-pass bill may have been the largest abortion bill Congress has passed in a decade.

Women in the Draft

Last year, Democrats in Congress tried the same trick with the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA funds our military every year, so Republicans are typically in favor of it. But in 2021, gender ideologues inserted a provision that would require women to register for the Selective Service. At the last moment, a handful of Republicans made removing that provision their top priority, but it nearly became the law of the land.

Obamacare

Progressives have been using this tactic for a long time. For example, when Congress was considering the Affordable Care Act in 2011, pro-life Democrats went along with their party’s overhaul of the health care system based on the guarantee that the bill would not fund abortions, and President Obama signed an executive order to that effect. Yet, Obamacare continues to subsidize abortions through health insurance plans.

Conclusion: Don’t Give in to Fake Compromise

For conservatives in Washington, bipartisanship is often a poorly-concealed snare. Bipartisanship requires shared values, and, generally speaking, the modern progressive Left isn’t interested in compromise, consensus, or finding common ground. The progressive Left is aggressively seeking power at any cost. They want to radically transform America. And to impose unpopular ideas on a “government of the people,” they have to lie about their intentions.

Sometimes people on the Right preemptively surrender the battlefield in search of peace. For example, for years, progressives have endorsed the far-Left Equality Act, which would establish special privileges for sexual orientation and gender identity and expand abortion access in federal law over and above other federally guaranteed rights such as religious freedom, women’s rights, and parental rights. Some Republicans are so alarmed by the implications of this bill that they have proposed their own, “compromise” version, titled Fairness for All. Fairness for All is essentially just the Equality Act with insufficient religious carve-outs. But this so-called “compromise” only features concessions from one side. Progressives have dug their heels in so firmly on the issue that they aren’t even pretending to care about the proposal by these few Republicans. Both the Equality Act and Fairness for All would still radically reorient American law around LGBT identity categories. If that happens, I wouldn’t put my money on the survival of religious exemptions.

The problem with compromise in today’s political climate is that progressives don’t want compromise. When they offer a “compromise,” it’s almost always in bad faith. Sometimes compromise becomes a white whale, which some Republicans chase, heedless of prudence or the reality of the situation. And when they finally get their bearings, they realize they’re miles down a highway going nowhere quickly.

Australian Psychiatric Group Takes Important Step Towards Keeping Children Safe

by Jennifer Bauwens, Ph.D.

November 10, 2021

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) recently issued a new position statement on the treatment of gender dysphoria (GD). This announcement follows recent moves by several European countries to amend their offerings of physiologically damaging procedures on minors who experience distress over embracing their biological sex.

Although the RANZCP doesn’t go as far as to ban transgender procedures on minors, their statement does echo a few noteworthy points raised by proponents of policies aimed at protecting children from these physiologically damaging practices. The RANZCP position paper:

  1. Acknowledged there is a lack of quality empirical evidence in the scientific literature on interventions for GD. In particular, there is a dearth of long-term research that shows a positive effect of these procedures on mental health outcomes. (Click here for more information on the scientific method.)
  2. Referenced studies showing an elevated risk for poor mental health outcomes among trans-identifying youth, including depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and self-harm. Considering this, the RANZCP recommend multiple treatment options and a comprehensive assessment of the patient.
  3. Stated that the comprehensive assessment should evaluate other mental health concerns and not GD alone. The evaluation should also include an exploration into the circumstances that gave rise to GD and an examination into the personal and familial background of the patient.
  4. Admonished psychiatrists to give evidence of a minors’ ability to give informed consent. Additionally, an assessment of the risks and benefits of various treatments for GD was emphasized. (Click here for more information on ethics.)

The RANZCP’s statement is one more small step towards recognizing the problematic state of mental health care for minors suffering from GD. By including an assessment of the family and ruling out the existence of mental health issues among caregivers, their position appropriately affirms previously held approaches to mental health care with minors. Additionally, the RANZCP endorses the profession’s commitment to providing evidence-based practices, exploring multiple treatment options and contributing factors to psychological distress, and ascertaining whether the minor can truly give consent to care.

As we continue our battle to keep America’s children safe, it is heartening to see other countries and professional groups recognizing the flagrant gaps in the scientific literature and reaffirming that treatment should be informed by evidence and not uniformly given to popular treatment protocols. A decade ago, this statement would’ve seemed irrelevant to most mental health professionals, but today, we see that we cannot take for granted good practice standards. For now, we are grateful for one more stride toward keeping our kids safe.

A full review of the RANZCP can be found here.

PRCs Alleviate the Stress of an Unplanned Pregnancy

by Joy Zavalick

November 8, 2021

The first week of November marked International Stress Awareness Week. Stress levels in the United States are at an all-time high. The American Psychological Association’s 2020 survey found that two out of every three adults (67 percent) experienced increased levels of stress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Undoubtedly, Americans are stressed and need resources to combat the sources of their anxiety.

Perhaps one of the most stressful events women commonly experience is an unplanned pregnancy. In 2018, 45 percent of the six million American pregnancies were unplanned or unintended. Roughly 40 percent of those unplanned pregnancies ended in abortion. Tragically, this means that only one out of every three unplanned pregnancies in the United States results in a child being born alive.

Thankfully, pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) exist for the sole purpose of supporting women needing assistance during their pregnancies. The approximately 3,000 PRCs spread across the nation seek to combat the stress and anxiety that women face as a result of an unplanned pregnancy.

The impact of PRCs is immense. In 2019, pro-life pregnancy centers provided $266 million in free services (such as counseling, pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and STI testing) and material resources (such as food and clothing) to women.

The need for PRCs has only been augmented by the enactment of pro-life laws, such as the Texas Heartbeat Act (SB 8) that prohibits elective abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected (around six weeks gestation). Since the law went into effect on September 1, PRCs in Texas have been inundated with women seeking their assistance and resources. Thankfully, the state has been well-equipped for years to meet the demand. According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, “Pro-life pregnancy centers provided nearly $33 million in total services, materials, and support at virtually no cost to Texas women and families in 2019 […].”

PRCs not only provide children the opportunity to be born, but they also improve the conditions in which children are born by seeking to minimize the stress that mothers face during pregnancy. According to a Columbia University study, one in three women (33 percent) experience psychological or physical stress during pregnancy. Women who experience stress during pregnancy are more likely to give birth prematurely, and their children are more likely to have slower central nervous system development.

For all of the benevolent services that PRCs offer, the pro-abortion movement is nevertheless intent on eradicating all alternatives to abortion businesses for women seeking reproductive assistance. A quick internet search of “pregnancy resource center” will drudge up countless articles hailing PRCs as “fake abortion clinics” or “fake women’s health centers.”

PRCs are not “fake abortion clinics.” Rather, they are an entirely different type of organization that recognizes both the struggles of mothers facing unplanned pregnancies and the inherent human dignity of the unborn children in their wombs. In every pregnancy, whether planned or unplanned, there are two key players—the mother and the baby. Abortion businesses offer a “solution” that stops a child’s heart and breaks the mother’s. Conversely, PRCs provide substantive care to both the mother and her child.

Pregnancy resource centers provide meaningful, practical assistance that helps mothers follow the counsel of Philippians 4:6-7, which says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Consider supporting your local PRC today. You can locate the PRCs near you by clicking here.

How Should Christians Use Religious Exemptions for Vaccine Mandates?

by David Closson

September 27, 2021

After months of promising that his administration would not mandate COVID-19 vaccines, President Joe Biden has changed course. Earlier this month, the president issued an executive order requiring millions of federal employees to either get the vaccine, get tested weekly, or face dismissal from their job. Shortly after the executive order, the president handed down another mandate, requiring all employers with more than 100 employees to mandate their workers be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. Businesses that do not comply with the rule can be fined up to $14,000 per violation. The new regulation is supposed to be drafted and implemented by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Understandably, many Americans are frustrated by the president’s about-face on mandating vaccines. Vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans alike are concerned about what kind of precedent such a sweeping executive order could set. Those who do not want a COVID-19 vaccine are concerned about how the mandate will personally affect them. As I explained in a previous article, there are serious legal, constitutional, moral, and conscience concerns related to the president’s vaccine mandate. Thus, it is no surprise that many people are asking about exemptions.

Ever since the president’s announcement, the question of religious exemptions has been the subject of a lot of discussion, especially within churches and the Christian community. If there are no clear biblical admonitions against receiving a vaccine, are there any grounds for a religious exemption?

On the legality of such requests, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an influential Christian legal non-profit that defends religious freedom in the courts, provides the following advice

You must first determine if your objection is based on a sincerely held religious belief against taking any of the available vaccines (since they are different), or whether your objections are based on other medical, health, cultural, or political, but not religious, concerns. Many people have medical or other concerns which do not rise to the level of an actual religious belief. A belief that taking a vaccine is unwise or could be harmful will normally be considered a medical or health objection, not a religious objection.

As ADF points out, many objections to vaccines are not religious in nature. Many Christians objecting to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine are doing so based on medical, personal, or political concerns. But there is another category of objections—“conscience objections”—which are related to religious objections. Like religious beliefs, conscience claims are deeply personal and connected to the core of a person. Christians believe our conscience is a God-given internal faculty that guides moral decision-making. One of the roles of our conscience is to convict us when we do something wrong. Our sense of guilt or shame following a wrong action comes from our conscience.

Christians believe that willfully acting against one’s conscience is sinful. Romans 14:23 teaches that “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” This admonition seems relevant when the action involves something as personal as injecting a vaccine into one’s body which, according to Scripture, is a “temple of the Lord” (1 Cor. 6:19). Believers are called to be stewards of their bodies, and this stewardship should be exercised in line with one’s conscience.

These reflections are important when considering the propriety of requesting a religious exemption to the vaccine mandate. Nothing in the Bible forbids Christians from getting vaccinated. Yet others in the Christian community will object to getting vaccinated—whether on conscience, religious, or other grounds. Because Christians believe it is sinful to do anything that goes against one’s conscience and it is wrong to force anyone to do what they think is morally wrong, it is appropriate to respect and accommodate those who have legitimate, morally informed reasons for requesting an exemption.

Finally, those seeking an exemption would do well to examine their hearts and motivations for seeking an exemption. As Christians, our actions should be carried out in faith and with a clear conscience. Additionally, pastors should consider only submitting vaccine exemption requests on behalf of members of their congregation. This provides a level of accountability to the process and keeps insincere appeals and possible abuse in check.

Keeping these principles in mind, what follows is an example letter that can be submitted by one’s pastor as part of a request for an exemption to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Those consulting this model letter should feel free to modify it to ensure it accurately reflects the sincerely-held beliefs of the individual requesting the exemption. Please also be aware that such a letter from one’s pastor is not legally required to initiate a request for a religious exemption but can nevertheless be submitted by those who wish to do so.

Example Letter:

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing on behalf of [Church Member] as [he/she] is requesting to be exempt from the COVID-19 vaccine mandated by [his/her] employer. After this mandate was announced, [Church Member] requested to meet with me and discuss how [he/she] should respond as a committed Christian and member of [Name of Church].

It is true that, thus far, Christians have come to varying conclusions regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, with many deciding to take it while others have not. Although Christians haven’t all come to the same conclusion about the vaccine, what they all share is a biblically informed belief that every single person is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). Part of being created in God’s image is to be endowed with a conscience, a God-given internal faculty that guides moral decision-making. A role of our conscience is to convict us when we do something wrong. Our conscience inflicts distress, in the form of remorse, whenever we violate what we believe is a morally appropriate course of action.

Significantly, Christians believe that to willfully act against one’s conscience is sinful. Romans 14:23 teaches that “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” This admonition seems especially pertinent when the action involves something as personal as injecting something into one’s body which, according to Scripture, is a “temple of the Lord” (1 Cor. 6:19). In other words, Christians believe it is sinful to do something that goes against their conscience and therefore morally wrong to force anyone to do something against their conscience. Christians believe sincere conscience objections should be respected and that no one should be forced to do something they believe is morally impermissible.

[Church Member’s] request for a religious conscience exemption to the COVD-19 vaccine is influenced by the church’s historic teaching on abortion (i.e., the intentional killing of unborn children in the womb). Fetal cell lines were used in the development and production of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, and fetal cell lines were used in the testing of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines. Passages from the Bible—including Exodus 21:22-25, Psalm 51:5-6; 139:13-16, Jeremiah 1:4-5, and Luke 1:39-45—affirm the personhood of the unborn. [Church Member] believes in the sanctity of the unborn and that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine would be a violation of [his/her] conscience, which prohibits [him/her] from even a remote complicity with the sin of abortion.

I can affirm that [Church Member] is acting in accordance with [his/her] sincerely-held religious beliefs in requesting a religious exemption. As [Church Member’s] pastor, I affirm that I have spoken with and prayed with [Church Member] about [his/her] request for an exemption. I can affirm that [he/she] is simply trying to follow [his/her] conscience. Therefore, during these difficult times, I prayerfully request that [Church Member’s] employer honors and respects [his/her] request for a religious exemption, just as I hope it would honor the beliefs of its other employees of faith who conscientiously object to receiving the vaccine.

Sincerely,

[Pastor’s Name]

[Church Name]

For further information on exemption requests and information on legal assistance, visit PrayVoteStand.org/vaccine.

How Should Christians Think About Biden’s Vaccine Mandate?

by David Closson

September 20, 2021

On September 9, President Joe Biden announced new executive action concerning COVID-19 vaccines. According to the president’s plan, all employers with more than 100 employees must require their workers to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. Businesses that do not comply with the rule can be fined up to $14,000 per violation. The new mandate follows a recent mandate that all federal employees receive the vaccine, get tested weekly, or face dismissal from their job. The new regulation is supposed to be drafted and implemented by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor (although some think this is without legal authority). Currently, it is unclear what type of medical, religious, or conscience exemptions will be granted concerning the vaccine mandate.

How should Christians respond to President Biden’s sweeping vaccine mandate? Specifically, how should Christians think about religious exemptions and accommodations? Admittedly, these are complex questions on which many biblically grounded Christians differ. But given the scope and far-reaching consequences for civil liberties, conscience rights, religious freedom, and the ability of families to make health decisions, these questions deserve careful consideration and reflection.

Legal Concerns

First, there are serious concerns that President Biden’s vaccine mandate is illegal and unconstitutional. No federal statute or constitutional provision expressly gives the president the authority to impose a sweeping vaccine mandate on private businesses and their employees in this manner, and the Biden administration has an extremely questionable reading of the statute they claim gives him this authority. Some states have already threatened to sue.

At the very least, Christians should be aware of the legal and constitutional concerns related to the president’s order. Once the new rule goes into effect, the mandate might not withstand the likely barrage of lawsuits challenging its legality.

Role of Government

Second, questions about the legality and constitutionality of President Biden’s vaccine mandate should prompt Christians to think about the proper role of government. The Bible teaches that government has been ordained by God. According to Paul, “Whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Rom. 13:2, ESV). In the United States, the primary governing authority is the U.S. Constitution. This means that when a president or any government official pursues a policy that oversteps their prescribed realm of authority, they are acting unlawfully. Of course, when our elected officials issue directives within their rightful scope of authority, Christians are bound to comply, so long as obeying does not require us to sin against God, a Christian’s highest authority (Acts 5:29).  

But do we have an obligation to automatically and always obey the government? Similarly, how should Christians respond if a mandate or law is not illegal, but they personally don’t like the law or find it inconvenient? For example, what’s the proper Christian response if the government were to mandate a weekly exercise routine or require its citizens to wear pink hats on Thursday?  On these questions, Christians should be humble and willing to learn from one another. We should also endeavor to think biblically about the role and purpose of government. 

One helpful way to think biblically about the role of government is through the concept of sphere sovereignty, a philosophy of society developed by Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920). According to Kuyper, life is divided into distinct, autonomous jurisdictions such as the state, family, church, and the individual. Although these spheres interact and may even overlap at points, there are clear lines of demarcation related to sovereignty that should not be crossed. For Kuyper, the state is empowered with limited oversight responsibility over the other spheres. However, the state’s authority is derivative, and dependent on God. Thus, the state must never attempt to monopolize power. Moreover, the state should respect the sovereignty of the individual. The state may intervene when a dispute arises between individuals and other spheres, but the state must never assume an outsized role and take over the tasks of society.

In short, sphere sovereignty is a model of diffused power that Kuyper believed was rooted in the structure of nature. Because authority is distributed across society’s vast array of institutions, no single entity or sphere accumulates ultimate sovereignty. Consequently, God’s position as supreme sovereign is preserved. Kuyper’s reflections are helpful when applied to the role of government. In fact, Kuyper’s thought follows the logic of Romans 13 which teaches that the state exists to punish evildoers and exact God’s wrath on those who do wrong (v. 4). Romans 13 does not teach that Christians should uncritically comply with the state no matter what is being demanded. As theologian Thomas Schreiner explains, “[Romans 13] is a general exhortation that delineates what is usually the case: people should normally obey the governing authorities.” In other words, the God-delegated purpose of the governing authorities is to punish evildoers and reward those who do good.

An implication of these principles is that when the government goes beyond its prescribed limits, it is acting unjustly and loses legitimacy. Applying the logic of sphere sovereignty to the vaccine mandate, the government does not have the authority to force us to inject a substance into our bodies that we do not consent to. This is outside the government’s jurisdiction, so it is appropriate for individuals to be wary about forced vaccination. The issue of bodily integrity is important, and Christians should be very concerned when the government oversteps its jurisdiction into the realm of the family and individual.

Of course, it is important to note that this appeal to bodily integrity is different than the popular but logically flawed pro-abortion slogan “my body, my choice.” For one, abortion deals with two bodies: the mothers’ and her child’s. The mother and child are two separate people; they are genetically distinct. Abortion violently destroys the body of the unborn child and interrupts the natural process of pregnancy, permanently severing the relationship between mother and child.

Political Concerns

Third, there are relevant political considerations related to the president’s mandate. In short, if Joe Biden can enact a mandate as broad and sweeping as this one, is there a mandate that this president or a future president can’t hand down in the name of public health? What’s the limit to what the president can compel American families and private companies to do? As it stands, the president’s mandate would affect about 100 million people. This fact alone necessitates careful consideration of the scope of presidential authority and power.

It is worth noting that the president’s directive is far more extreme than the orders handed down by Democrat governors and mayors. Throughout the pandemic, Democrat leaders have embraced measures such as mask mandates, lockdowns, and school closures. But the president’s mandate goes even further. In fact, Biden’s heavy-handed action threatens to increase vaccine hesitancy rather than persuade the unvaccinated to comply with the order.

Conscience Concerns

Fourth, questions about religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate have prompted debate in the wider society, including among Christians. Notably, there is nothing in the Bible that forbids Christians from getting vaccinated. Many Christians, citing verses like Philippians 2:4 (“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”), have cheerfully received COVID-19 vaccines out of a desire to protect not only their own health but also the health of their loved ones and neighbors. Meanwhile, other believers have reservations or sincerely held conscience objections to receiving the vaccine, believing it is morally impermissible or not right for them.

If there are no clear biblical admonitions against receiving a vaccine, are there any grounds for a religious exemption? On this question, Alliance Defending Freedom, an influential Christian legal group, provides the following advice:

You must first determine if your objection is based on a sincerely held religious belief against taking any of the available vaccines (since they are different), or whether your objections are based on other medical, health, cultural, or political, but not religious, concerns. Many people have medical or other concerns which do not rise to the level of an actual religious belief. A belief that taking a vaccine is unwise or could be harmful will normally be considered a medical or health objection, not a religious objection.

While the objections of some Christians to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine are rooted in medical, personal, and political concerns, the concerns of others qualify for what might be called “conscience objections.” Like religious beliefs, conscience claims are deeply personal and connected to the core of a person. Now, when talking about conscience, as with anything, it is important to define our terms. In short, Christians believe conscience is a God-given internal faculty that guides moral decision-making. Our conscience convicts us when we do something wrong. A rightly functioning conscience inflicts distress, in the form of guilt, shame, or remorse, whenever we violate what we believe is a morally appropriate course of action.

Significantly, Christians believe that to willfully act against one’s conscience is sinful. Romans 14:23 teaches that “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” This admonition seems especially pertinent when the action involves something as personal as injecting something into one’s body which, according to Scripture, is a “temple of the Lord” (1 Cor. 6:19). In other words, Christians believe it is sinful to do something that goes against their conscience; therefore, it is morally wrong to force anyone to do something that violates their conscience. In the context of the vaccine mandate, it seems appropriate to honor and respect those who have legitimate, morally informed reasons for receiving or not receiving a vaccine.

Abortion Concerns

Fifth, when it comes to religious freedom concerns and the vaccine, concern about complicity with abortion has been raised. On this front, it is worth noting that for 2,000 years, Christians have been clear on their convictions about abortion (i.e., the intentional killing of unborn children in the womb). According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, fetal cell lines were used in the development and production of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, and fetal cell lines were used in the testing of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines (but not in the vaccines themselves). Passages from the Bible—including Exodus 21:22-25; Psalm 51:5-6, 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:4-5; and Luke 1:39-45—affirm the personhood of the unborn. Many who believe in the sanctity of life sincerely believe it is inappropriate to have even the slightest connection with abortion, even if that connection is remote. For that reason, some have chosen to forego a vaccine while many other pro-life Americans have chosen to get the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine and avoid the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to the latter’s use of fetal cell lines in its development and production.

Finally, as a general note, when abortion-derived cell lines are used in the development, production, or testing of vaccines, the Christian community—including those who chose to get vaccines—should express disapproval about the continued use of these cell lines and request that laboratories and pharmaceutical companies not use these cell lines in the future.

Final Reflections

In short, President Biden’s vaccine mandate has proven to be divisive and frustrating to millions of Americans. After months of promising that his administration would not mandate vaccines, Biden has done an about-face. (As recently as July, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about vaccine mandates and responded, “Can we mandate vaccines across the country? No. That’s not a role that the federal government, I think, even has the power to make.”) Many Americans are understandably outraged. As those called to take every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:5), Christians cannot respond to the vaccine mandate simply out of emotion but must think carefully and biblically about the announcement. Legal challenges will determine whether the order is constitutional and therefore enforceable.

But beyond the specifics of the mandate, Christians should think biblically about the role and authority of government as well as the propriety and wisdom of appealing to religious freedom exemptions. Religious freedom is a precious right afforded to those who live in this country and should never be abused. Although some Christians think it is unwise to appeal to religious freedom exemptions when the Bible does not prohibit vaccines, it is nonetheless the case that millions of Christians believe taking a COVID-19 vaccine is not the right decision for their health or have sincere conscience objections to being forced to do something they deem even remotely connected to an immoral practice such as abortion. Therefore, rather than bully, cajole, or coerce our fellow Americans, it seems prudent to respect each other’s religious beliefs, consciences, and moral convictions concerning vaccines.

How the “Infrastructure” Bill Is a Trojan Horse for a Leftist Social Agenda

by Family Research Council

August 6, 2021

The $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure “deal” that is being floated in Congress right now is very bad news. It not only increases the national budget deficit (which has already ballooned to three times the level seen in 2019), but it also contains a “poison pill” that advances an aggressive leftist agenda on marriage and human sexuality. It is effectively a steppingstone to achieving the Equality Act’s ultimate goal—a total overhaul of our federal civil rights framework to mandate special privileges based on “sexual orientation and gender identity” (SOGI).

Congressional Democrats are pairing this infrastructure “deal” with an additional piece of legislation championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—a $3.5 trillion bill that reportedly includes the following items from the Left’s wish list:

  • Universal pre-Kindergarten, which would take children out of parents’ care and enroll them in public education even earlier.
  • Free two-year community college for everyone, including illegal immigrants, which would further incentivize academic institutions over personalized choices for successful career paths.
  • $1.6 billion for teacher certification programs that can be used to exclude any teachers that do not want to promote Critical Race Theory and gender ideology.
  • A nationally-mandated paid leave program that allows employees to take paid leave for almost any reason given, rather than for specific family reasons like caring for a newborn child or taking care of an elderly parent. A national mandate on paid leave may also disincentivize employers to offer their own more flexible parental leave plans that fit their employee’s needs.
  • A permanent expansion of Affordable Care Act subsidies that will directly fund health plans that cover abortion.
  • The potential for either a public option or a side-by-side Medicaid program that will sidestep the Hyde Amendment and fund abortions directly with taxpayer dollars. (See frc.org/families to learn about our concerns with Biden’s anti-family plan.)

Many of the specifics contained in the infrastructure bill and the Sanders bill were released back in the spring as part of one comprehensive $4 trillion economic plan that President Biden positioned as one of his signature progressive priorities. It was released in two parts:

  1. The American Jobs Plan totaling $2.3 trillion, released March 31
  2. The American Families Plan totaling $1.78 trillion, released April 28

From the outset, all of the polices in these two bills have been sold as one comprehensive plan to “build back better.” As these plans got worked into legislation, most of the American Jobs Plan ended up in the current infrastructure “deal.” Then, all of the Families Plan, the remaining parts of the Jobs Plan, and some additional proposals were swept into the $3.5 trillion reconciliation blueprint the Senate has committed to take up immediately after passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

President Biden and Democrat congressional leadership are hoping to pass as much of the president’s $4 trillion policy dream from the spring and whatever other liberal goodies are feasible. Whether that comes in two bills (one bipartisan the other partisan), or one partisan reconciliation bill, they will pass as much as they can. That sets up two scenarios:

  1. If the bipartisan infrastructure bill succeeds, it frees up a full $3.5 trillion that can be used completely on progressive priorities, since the $1 trillion in infrastructure spending is already taken care of.
  2. If the bipartisan infrastructure bill fails, the entire infrastructure bill will most likely be rolled into the broader reconciliation bill, making it more challenging to convince moderate Democrats to sign off on major progressive priorities in a bill that could swell to over $5 trillion.

Why defeating the infrastructure bill is important:

  • If the infrastructure bill is defeated, the infrastructure spending in reconciliation would become a top priority for moderate Democrats. This would make it more difficult for the more liberal Democrats to cram radical policies into reconciliation. Although the majority party can set a topline spending number as high as they want, for reconciliation, they will have to choose a number the most moderate members are okay with. If a higher topline number is agreed to, it will force Democrats to pick and choose which programs they include, increasing the likelihood that we will see fewer bad programs overall if the bipartisan deal is defeated.
  • It will be really hard for Senators Manchin (D-W.Va.), Sinema (D-Ariz.), and some others to justify voting for over $5 trillion in direct partisan spending—which they would be doing if all this is crammed into one bill. Known for working across the aisle, both Sinema and Manchin have expressed concern with a $3.5 trillion price tag for reconciliation, making it hard for them to accept an even higher price tag on a purely partisan deal.
  • We should remember that anything in the reconciliation package would be subject to the Byrd Rule (allowing senators to block unrelated provisions), so Republicans helping Democrats pass their infrastructure priorities is saving Democrats from having to make all those provisions compliant to this rule.

Some Senate Republicans insist the two are separate bills, but President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have already promised to pair them. Given the limited amount that Democrats can pass in reconciliation without Republican votes, every vote for this bipartisan “deal” creates room for more liberal wish list items in reconciliation.

In short, paying for roads and bridges in the infrastructure “deal” clears the deck for Democrats to focus on the radical policies in reconciliation. If this deal fails, Democrats will have to do roads and bridges in reconciliation. Since the reconciliation process is limited, there’d be less room for their partisan pet projects.

Thus, in this case, a vote for “infrastructure” is a vote for Biden’s entire progressive agenda.

**To tell your Senators to reject this bad bill, go here: frcaction.org/infrastructure

California Is Fining Churches for Using Common Sense

by Kaitlyn Shepherd

September 4, 2020

Even though the First Amendment clearly protects religious liberty, California continues to stymie churches’ efforts to reopen amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

On August 28, Governor Newsom announced a new statewide reopening plan, which replaced the previous county monitoring list. Under the new system, each county will be classified under one of four tiers. Each tier has a corresponding color that designates the county’s coronavirus risk level, which is based on the number of new coronavirus cases per day and the percentage of positive tests. Purple counties (widespread risk level) have more than seven new cases per day (per every 100,000) and more than eight percent positive tests. Red counties (substantial risk level) have four to seven new cases per day (per every 100,000) and five to eight percent positive tests. Orange counties (moderate risk level) have one to 3.9 new cases per day (per every 100,000) and two to 4.9 percent positive tests. Yellow counties (minimal risk level) have less than one new case per day (per every 100,000) and less than two percent positive tests.

Unfortunately, California’s new system fails to adequately prioritize the First Amendment rights of its churches and congregations. As of the Governor’s announcement on Friday, 38 of the state’s 58 counties (approximately 87 percent of the population) were in the highly restrictive purple tier. In these counties, churches are not allowed to hold indoor services. In red counties (currently nine counties), churches may hold indoor services, but they may only admit up to 25 percent of their building’s capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Churches in orange counties (currently nine counties) may also hold indoor services but must limit attendance to 50 percent of building capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer. Churches in yellow counties may admit up to 50 percent of their building’s capacity, but only two counties, Modoc and Alpine Counties, are currently classified under this tier. According to industry guidance (current as of July 29), all churches have been ordered to “discontinue indoor singing and chanting activities.”

In addition to statewide restrictions preventing churches from resuming in-person services, California churches are also facing opposition at the local level. Los Angeles County’s Grace Community Church resumed in-person services on July 26. After the County threatened the church with civil and criminal penalties for continued violations of the County’s prohibition on indoor worship services, the church filed a lawsuit against Governor Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and other public officials. The County tried—and failed—four times to obtain court orders that would force the church to cease holding in-person services. On August 28, in another attempt to prevent the church from reopening, the County “terminat[ed] the church’s lease on a large portion of [its] parking lot.”

Grace Community Church is not alone in its struggle to reopen. In Ventura County, a judge held Godspeak Calvary Chapel and its pastor, Rob McCoy, in contempt of court. He fined the church $3,000 for holding indoor services in violation of a temporary restraining order that mandated compliance with the County’s prohibition on such services. And in Santa Clara County, North Valley Baptist Church has been fined over $52,000 for continuing to hold in-person services.

As churches in California and across the country consider reopening, they should make every effort to reopen safely by taking reasonable precautions and following common-sense guidelines. It is high time that California allows them to do so.

Kaitlyn Shepherd is a legal intern with Policy & Government Affairs at Family Research Council.

Is it Time for Churches to Reopen?

by David Closson

August 13, 2020

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, churches have had to make difficult decisions. Now, as states reopen, church leaders are deciding whether to reopen for public services or continue providing live-streams and smaller, home-based ministry. Considerations such as protecting the health of worshippers, the public witness of the church, the spiritual and physical needs of members, and complying with government mandates are all a part of the conversation.

Across the country, churches are coming to different conclusions on these questions. In California, Pastor Jack Hibbs decided to reopen his megachurch on May 31. In late July, John MacArthur and the elders at Grace Community Church in California decided that the state and local government had overstepped their authority and opened the church for worship on July 26. Three days later, the church received a letter from a Los Angeles County attorney demanding the church stop holding indoor worship services. The letter threatened fines and imprisonment for noncompliance. On August 12, in an effort to block the state from enforcing its regulations, Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church filed suit against California Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. 

Conversely, J.D. Greear, pastor of Summit Church in North Carolina and current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced at the end of July that his church would not hold public worship services for the remainder of the year and instead will facilitate home-based gatherings. Greear cited the biblical admonition of neighbor-love as a reason for his decision.

Which approach is best? Should churches resume holding public worship services, or should they be cautious and wait to fully reopen?

Complicating matters are the strict reopening policies some overreaching state and local governments have ordered churches to follow. In some states, governors and mayors have appeared to single out churches for unfair treatment, and as a result, pastors in these areas are beginning to defy unconstitutional and overreaching mandates from the authorities. These incidents have raised questions about how pastors should respond to the government when it oversteps its authority. For example, can the government prohibit churches from holding worship services? Does a governor have the right to tell churches they can’t sing? More generally, what is the proper posture government should have towards religion? These questions have prompted further reflection on the theological rationale for civil disobedience.

How Churches Have Responded to the Pandemic

Before answering the question of how churches should navigate reopening amid a pandemic, it is important to recall how churches have responded thus far.

In early March, virtually all churches suspended in-person worship services and other activities in response to the pandemic. Throughout the spring and early summer, churches almost universally complied with government mandates. This is important to remember, especially considering the media’s hostile and misleading reporting about churches. For example, on July 9, the New York Times published an article with the alarming headline “Churches Open Doors, And the Virus Sweeps In.” Ominously, the writers reported, “More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic.” While the report initially sounds distressing, an objective, clear-minded analysis of the total number of cases shows that 650 cases represent an incredibly small percentage of the overall confirmed 4.75 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States (as of July 9). While every case is serious, the disproportionate attention on cases emerging from churches betrays an underlining animus toward people of faith.

Churches were quick to follow initial guidance from federal, state, and local authorities. According to an April study by LifeWay Christian Resources, 99 percent of Protestant churches gathered for worship on March 1. By March 29, only seven percent were still meeting. Notably, most churches ceased in-person gatherings before most states instituted stay-at-home orders (only nine states had stay-at-home orders as of March 23; by then, 90 percent of churches had adopted the CDC’s non-binding recommendation to suspend in-person gatherings). Therefore, anyone arguing that churches were obstinate or unwilling to obey the governing authorities from the outset of the pandemic is wrong. With very few exceptions, pastors across the country followed the Bible’s teaching in Romans 13 to honor the governing authorities.

Constitutional and Legal Considerations: The Unequal Treatment of Churches

Churches have served their members and local communities in creative ways throughout the spring and early summer—including live-streams and “Drive-In” services. However, now that their respective states have reopened, many churches have resumed or wish to resume in-person meetings and services. But churches in some states and localities have been ordered by the governing authorities not to reopen, despite implementing health and safety measures consistent with CDC guidance. What are we to make of the legal restrictions and gathering bans being imposed on churches?

According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, as of July 27, worship services are prohibited or currently subject to unequal treatment (compared to nonreligious activities) in six states (California, Nevada, Washington, Maine, New Jersey, and Connecticut). Another 14 states have broad but equally applicable restrictions that limit churches’ ability to gather for worship or other activities.

Many of these restrictions are likely unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, which generally bars government from discriminating against religious entities in its policies and practices. For example, Nevada churches—regardless of size—are prohibited from admitting more than 50 people. Meanwhile, Nevada casinos can admit 50 percent of their maximum occupancy, allowing thousands of people inside. One church, Calvary Chapel, sued the state but was denied injunctive relief by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision. In his dissent, Justice Neil Gorsuch quipped, “In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion.” Justice Brett Kavanaugh, also in dissent, added, “COVID–19 is not a blank check for a State to discriminate against religious people, religious organizations, and religious services.”

In California, two-thirds of the state’s 58 counties are on a “county monitoring list.” Churches in these counties are not allowed to hold indoor services. Churches in counties not on the monitoring list are only allowed to admit 25 percent of their building’s capacity or up to a maximum of 100 people. As of July 29, California churches have been ordered to “discontinue indoor singing.” Notably, the same prohibition on chanting and singing did not extend to secular activities hosted indoors, including daycare centers, entertainment, schools, music, television and film production, and, most notably, public protests. In fact, Governor Newsom refused to ban protesters from chanting or singing, despite the risks posed by large gatherings in confined spaces.

Restrictions like those imposed on churches in California, Nevada, and elsewhere are even further problematic because the First Amendment gives religion a “privileged status” due to the societal good it provides and out of respect for the conscience of the citizenry. In his legal commentary regarding the First Amendment, Justice Joseph Story wrote, “It is the especial duty of government to foster, and encourage [religion] among all citizens and subjects.” The government is not to curtail religious exercise unless it demonstrates a compelling interest in doing so, and even then, the curtailment must occur in the narrowest way possible. This strong standard is in place in part because religion is something the American Founders knew ought to be safeguarded. Religion undergirds our nation and provides a vibrancy that must be preserved.

The First Amendment puts religious activity in a special category, and requires that it be protected. As Justice Kavanaugh noted in the recent Calvary Chapel case, even in a pandemic, the U.S. Constitution does not allow for casinos to receive privileged treatment over churches. As Kavanaugh explained, unlike gambling, the free exercise of religion is explicitly protected by the Constitution, and state laws that reflect “an implicit judgment that for-profit assemblies are important and religious gatherings are less so,” violate the Constitution. In America, religious liberty is often referred to as our “first freedom” because it is foundational to our other freedoms. Craps and poker simply do not merit the same protection.

Theological Considerations: The Christian Response to Religious Liberty Violations

What is a proper Christian response to what appears to be blatant religious discrimination and an unjust usurpation of authority by several states? Although Scripture teaches that government is a legitimate, God-ordained authority, is there a different calculus that pastors and church leaders need to make if it is clear the government has transgressed its constitutionally and divinely prescribed authority?

In a word, yes. In Romans 13, Paul teaches that the governing authorities are responsible for maintaining societal order and keeping the peace. However, God has not granted the government jurisdiction over the doctrine, liturgy, or practice of the church; pastors and elders, not magistrates, have been entrusted with this authority. In fact, there is biblical precedent for not obeying rulers who overstep their authority. When the corrupt religious authorities in Jerusalem ordered the apostles to stop preaching, Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Christians should honor the governing authorities as long as they are operating within their God-ordained role, but if the government is defying higher authority by imposing unconstitutional requirements on churches that want to reopen, pastors should seriously consider moving forward with plans to reopen their churches as safely as possible.

The roles of the church and state are complicated by the unique circumstances of a global pandemic. However, six months into the pandemic, we are faced with another type of health crisis. Experts are now warning of a mental health crisis due to the fear and anxiety sparked by the virus. According to preliminary data, depression, substance abuse, PTSD, drug overdoses, and suicide are all on the rise. A phenomenon that health experts refer to as a “shadow pandemic” is following the virus, manifesting itself in a variety of serious mental health concerns. For example, in Fresno, California, suicides were 70 percent higher in June this year compared to last year. According to the medical examiner’s office in Cook County (Chicago area), there have already been 58 suicides this year compared to 56 for all last year. And finally, the National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine has seen a 65 percent increase in calls and emails since March. Mental health experts have cited economic stress, social isolation, and, importantly, reduced access to church and worship services as factors driving this trend. Considering these factors, it is very reasonable to question whether the state and local governments truly have a compelling interest to impose on religion in the way they have.

How to Safely Reopen Your Church

Each church should ask themselves: What are the spiritual and practical consequences of remaining closed? What is the cost of only reopening a fraction of our outreaches and ministries?

Of course, in places where the virus has inflicted significant damage, churches should be wise and exercise good judgment. But most churches likely should move toward reopening, with safety precautions in place. This is true in states like California and Nevada, where churches appear to have been treated poorly with no justifiable reason. Churches within these states should continue to press their case—both at the local level and with the Department of Justice—that their constitutional rights are being violated. Constitutionally and theologically, churches have the right to continue the work they’ve been called to do. It is critical to our democracy that the government recognize and proactively protect the vital role religion plays in society. The pandemic does not alter this principle. As seen by the mental health epidemic, the need for the spiritual support of the church is only enhanced in the coronavirus era. It seems increasingly clear that by not opening, congregations and communities are at risk from other maladies besides the coronavirus.

Finally, safely reopening churches will require pastors and church leaders to exercise courage and faith, especially in areas where government officials have demonstrated hostility toward them. But Scripture reminds us that it is precisely for these moments that God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). According to Ohio State Representative Jena Powell, this is exactly what we need from our church leaders today. As Powell explained, “Right now, we need pastors with courage to stand up against government overreach, which is blatantly usurping the power that God has given to His church alone. We need pastors who are unafraid to boldly follow the commands of Scripture, and lead their churches in discipleship, evangelism, and serving their neighbors. I’m grateful for the many pastors who are shepherding well and hope more follow their example.”

To help churches safely reopen, Family Research Council has released a resource titled Guidelines for Reopening Your Church, which outlines the best sanitation practices advised by the CDC. It also provides guidance on other precautions churches can take, such as providing masks for those who attend services, ways to hygienically collect tithes and offerings, tips for administering the ordinances such as the Lord’s Supper, ideas for seating configurations, and ways pastors can set the tone for their congregations.

For further discussion about reopening churches and how Christians can think about responding to overreaching government authorities, listen to my recent interview with Tony Perkins on Washington Watch. And don’t forget to take advantage of all of FRC’s COVID-19 and The Church Resources.

Kaitlyn Shepherd, a legal intern with Policy & Government Affairs at Family Research Council, contributed legal research for this blog.

During the Pandemic, the Trump Administration Is Continuing to Protect Religious Freedom

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP , Jeremy Pilz

July 22, 2020

Yesterday, the Trump Administration announced further steps to protect religious freedom during the coronavirus pandemic. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the resolution of two recent complaints filed against hospitals for infringing on religious freedom.

in June 2020, OCR received a complaint from a woman named Susanna Marcus, alleging she had requested a visit from a priest for her critically injured husband, Sidney Marcus. However, Prince George’s Hospital Center of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), the hospital where Sidney Marcus was admitted, denied the request. In late May 2020, Susanna and Sidney Marcus were involved in major car accident. Due to the nature of Sidney’s injuries, the couple was separated, and Sydney was placed in the intensive care unit. As a result of Sidney’s continued decline in health, Susanna requested a visit from a local priest for prayer at the hospital. The priest, however, was turned away by the hospital, based on a visitor exclusion policy adopted in response to COVID-19, despite being willing to wear any necessary personal protective equipment. In partnership with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), OCR provided technical assistance to the hospital based on federal guidance which provides that “facilities must ensure patients have adequate and lawful access to chaplains or clergy.” Following this action by OCR, Prince George’s Hospital Center came into compliance with the federal guidance and granted Sidney Marcus’s request to freely exercise his religion by allowing the Catholic priest to visit and administer the sacraments of Holy Communion and Anointing of the Sick to him.

This is significant because it concerns the ability of clergy to continue to operate and function during the coronavirus, something the administration made sure was included in nationwide guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security. President Trump should be commended for ensuring clergy and pastors can continue to operate in this way and serve their communities during the coronavirus.

That same month, OCR also received a complaint from a medical student who was participating in rotations at the Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH) in New York City. As a part of their response to COVID-19, SIUH temporarily suspended medical student rotations at the hospital. To return to rotation, SIUH required students to wear N95 respirator masks while assisting patients. As a result, SIUH informed one student that he would need to shave his beard if he wanted to return to his rotation. In accordance with the tenets of his religion, this student has not shaved his beard. HHS then stepped in to provided technical assistance to the hospital, and ultimately, they granted the student an accommodation to wear alternative protective equipment in the hospital so that he would not have to shave his beard.

These actions by the Trump administration may seem like small regulatory resolutions, but what they show is a consistent and concerted effort by this administration to protect religious freedom for all Americans. Everyone’s ability to practice their faith must be protected, and the administration is accomplishing this in concrete ways with actions like what HHS did yesterday. This also demonstrates that in times of crisis like the one our country is facing now, this administration will not protect one civil liberty at the expense of another. From the onset of the pandemic, HHS and the Department of Justice have been diligent to enforce laws protecting everything from disability rights to the right churches have to freely worship. No matter the situation our country faces, the Office of Civil Rights at HHS is on duty, protecting the guard rails of civil rights like religious freedom.

If you have a been discriminated against by a healthcare provider or government agency for your religious beliefs, please visit hhs.gov/ocr to file a complaint.

Connor Semelsberger, MPP is the Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council.

Jeremy Pilz is a Policy and Government Affairs intern focusing on federal legislative affairs, with a concentration on pro-life issues.

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