Racial Equality

The Coronavirus And Church-State Separation: An Update Of The Latest Developments

  Rob Boston

As many Americans enter their sixth week of quarantine, Americans United continues to monitor news related to the effect of the coronavirus on church-state separation.

Here’s a round-up of recent developments:

* Earlier this month we wrote about Pastor John Duncan of Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi, Calif., who insists that his church should be able to meet for in-person services despite an order from the state limiting large gatherings. Duncan, aided by an extreme Religious Right legal group called the National Center for Law & Policy, is suing over the matter in federal court.

Americans United, which urged Lodi officials to stand firm and not give into Duncan’s demands, will continue monitoring the situation and plans to file a legal brief in the case. (Over the past few weeks, attorneys in AU’s Legal Department have filed six friend-of-the-court briefs in similar cases, arguing that religious exemptions from broadly based do-not-gather orders are unconstitutional, would pose a grave threat to public health and should not be granted.)

* As we noted previously, two churches in Kansas challenged Gov. Laura Kelly’s order banning gatherings of more than 10 people and managed to win a preliminary decision from a federal court allowing them to meet as long as they practice social distancing. Over the weekend, Kelly announced a settlement that may resolve the case.

* U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to divert taxpayer money to private schools.  Congress included educational funding in the CARES Act, the coronavirus relief bill. DeVos plans to divert up to $180 million of that money for “Rethink K-12 School Model Grants” – essentially a federally funded private school voucher scheme. It would shift public dollars to pay for any educational services that a private school or online school or company may offer. The National Coalition for Public Education, which AU co-chairs, has denounced the scheme. Our government should provide greater funding and resources for our public schools, which are best-equipped to support all students, and our public school teachers, who are already showing their innovation, resilience and commitment to educating and assisting our children during these difficult times.

* Controversial televangelist Jim Bakker is complaining that his end-times ministry is facing bankruptcy because major credit card companies will no longer allow people to make donations due to a flap over his promotion of a fake coronavirus cure.

Bakker got into trouble with several states and federal authorities after he began hawking a questionable product called Silver Solution that a guest on his daily television show claimed could cure coronavirus.

Officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and in New York state ordered Bakker to stop marketing the substance as a coronavirus cure. Missouri officials sued him over the matter.

Bakker is begging his followers to mail him cash to stave off bankruptcy,

“We need money to stay on the air. I am just saying it bluntly,” Bakker told viewers recently. “They’re already bleeding us to death, and now we’re going to have to pay lawyers that will bleed you to death.”

* Creationist Ken Ham is eager to reopen two attractions he owns in Kentucky – the Creation Museum, a facility that attempts to portray the biblical story of the origin of the world as science, and Ark Encounter, an alleged replica of Noah’s Ark. Dan Phelps, president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society and an Americans United member, keeps an eye on Ham’s antics and noted that Ham has recently issued a series of tweets arguing that the lockdown is hurting the economy too much. For good measure, Ham asserts that everyone dies eventually, so what’s the big deal? Seriously.

Americans United staff members are hard at work (remotely) defending separation of church and state during these challenging times. We welcome your support!

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