President Donald Trump on Saturday retweeted Paul Sperry, a conservative writer who implied that states would allow mosques to open for Ramadan after having closed churches for Easter.
“Let’s see if authorities enforce the social-distancing orders for mosques during Ramadan (April 23-May 23) like they did for churches during Easter,” Sperry tweeted.
Later in the day, during a White House briefing on the coronavirus, Trump asserted that “there could be a difference” between the treatment of Christians and Muslims. He also claimed that he had “seen a great disparity” and insisted that “the Christian faith is treated much different.”
These are inflammatory charges. Where is the evidence for them?
There isn’t any. This is a reckless accusation, and it’s typical Trump xenophobia. By now, we know the script: Trump makes a wild charge with absolutely no facts behind it. The Fox News Channel and other right-wing media pick up the claim and run with it. They repeat it over and over, hoping to convince Americans to believe it. The claim is utterly lacking in facts and will only inflame anti-Muslim bias, but that doesn’t matter to Trump.
Well, here are some facts anyway: Americans United has been monitoring incidences of houses of worship defying state and local bans on large gatherings – and we’ve been tracking cases of COVID-19 outbreaks that can be traced to religious gatherings. As we’ve noted several times, most religious leaders are doing the right thing and have canceled in-person services. Of the ones who are refusing, the vast majority are conservative Christian churches. (In New York and New Jersey, we’ve seen resistance from some ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups as well.)
How many mosques in America have defied stay-at-home orders? We’re not aware of any. How many COVID-19 outbreaks can be traced to mosques? None have been reported. This is strong evidence that imams are obeying state orders and have closed U.S. mosques. Furthermore, the Fiqh Council of North America, a body of Islamic scholars in the U.S. and Canada, has made it clear that mosques should follow state and local orders to maintain public health.
Farhana Khera, executive director of AU ally Muslim Advocates, responded to Trump in a powerful statement: “It is insulting and frustrating that on the eve of Ramadan, and as all Americans are suffering because of the COVID-19 crisis, our president chooses to use his energy and platform to amplify the hateful words of a bigot. As is often the case, the president is yet again stoking anti-Muslim hate and sowing division at a time when he is failing to do his job.”
As Khera noted, American Muslims are feeling the same pain as everyone else.
“We are hurting,” she said. “We are working in frontline jobs like health care, transportation and food service. We are worried about bills. We are praying for and mourning loved ones.”
Instead of acknowledging that sacrifice, Trump chooses to spread unhinged conspiracy theories peddled by know-nothings. It is yet another sad example of his spectacular failure to lead during this crisis.
P.S. You’ll recall that Trump at one point had pondered ending social-distancing and stay-home orders in time to pack churches for Easter but quickly had to back off that goal in light of the reality of the public health crisis. And you’ll note he’s made no such comments about how special it would be to reopen mosques in time for Ramadan. So, yes, there is some truth about a “difference” in how our government treats Christians in comparison with Muslims and people of other religions – but not in the way Trump thinks.