The spread of coronavirus is affecting all aspects of life. Universities are moving to remote instruction, public schools and libraries are closing, millions of Americans (including the staff of Americans United) are working from home and in some cities and states, restaurants and bars have shuttered. 

We see daily reminders to wash our hands, avoid crowds and maintain proper social distance. It’s disruptive, to be sure, but one thing is clear: Americans are resilient, and we can get through this if we all work together. 

Unfortunately, some people are working against national interests by spreading messages that are not only inaccurate and counterproductive but dangerous. Among them is Christian nationalist leader Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. 

Falwell appeared on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” on Friday and asserted that people are “overreacting” to the global pandemic. Falwell parroted an argument that’s popping up in conservative circles these days – that coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) is similar to the seasonal flu and it’s no big deal. Falwell vowed to keep Liberty open but had to reverse himself after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam banned all gatherings over 100 people.

Falwell’s view are pure malarkey. We have a vaccine for the seasonal flu that helps keep the mortality rate at 0.1 percent. As of yet, there’s no vaccine for COVID-19. Coronavirus also spreads faster than the flu and poses a much more serious threat to older people and those with compromised immune systems. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified before Congress last week that COVID-19 is “ten times more lethal than the seasonal flu.”  

Falwell also asserted that there’s a political dimension to the virus, insisting that Trump’s enemies are using the outbreak to hurt him. 

“Impeachment didn’t work, the Mueller report didn't work, Article 25 didn’t work. Maybe this is their next attempt to get Trump,” he said.

A moment later, Falwell really went off the rails, suggesting that coronavirus could be a type of biological weapon cooked up in a lab by North Korea in cahoots with China. There is absolutely no evidence for this.  

As Falwell spewed this nonsense, none of the hosts on “Fox & Friends” even mildly pushed back. A similar dynamic played out on Sunday morning when U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) appeared on Fox and urged people to go out to restaurants and bars, advice that stands in stark contrast to what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is telling Americans.  

The same First Amendment that protects religious freedom and instills separation of church and state also ensures freedom of the press. But it is irresponsible to use those freedoms to harm others. It’s no surprise that Falwell, who advocates for the misuse of religious freedom to justify discrimination, would also wield other First Amendment freedoms like a weapon. But decent people have free speech, too. Let’s use ours to denounce Falwell’s wild-eyed conspiracy theories and reckless lies.  

Photo: Screenshot from Fox News Channel