Virus Crackdowns Par for the Courts

April 21, 2020

If you ask most protestors in the states, it's the hypocrisy that's bothering them -- not the commonsense rules. In places like Washington State, columnists raged at the double standards of governors like Jay Inslee (D), whose orders insist, "Private home construction must stop, but Sound Transit construction can continue. Private landscapers are out of work, but [counties] can still dispatch crews to trim grass in closed parks..." In Michigan, you can't buy flower seeds, but you can buy weed. And in Kansas, families can drive-through a Sonic, but not parking lot church service.

"Public safety is important," Alliance Defending Freedom's (ADF) Tyson Langhofer agreed, "but so is following the Constitution." And when local officials use the virus crisis to overreach, it's time to push back. That's exactly what people are doing across Mississippi, Kansas, California, North Carolina, and other states where government is abusing power to crack down on Christians and conservatives.

ADF's Mike Farris, who's been keeping busy with the flood of complaints from pastors and pro-lifers, says the problems are popping up all over the country. "But it's really gratifying to see the courts are understanding the challenges... We're looking for equal treatment and common sense. And when either of those things are violated, then we'll come to take you to task."

The reality is, these churches aren't asking for special treatment. Like most Americans, they support the CDC guidelines. They want to keep the community safe. And as long as everybody plays by the same rules, congregations are happy to adapt. They'll think and act outside the box. But if local officials are going to single out Christians to apply tighter restrictions just to them, then we have a problem. The same goes for ministries or nonprofits.

David Benham's group, Cities4Life, was created to provide counseling and assistance outside of the abortion clinics in Charlotte, North Carolina. Two weeks ago, despite abiding by all of the rules and social distancing guidelines, he and some of his volunteers were arrested. Not because they'd violated any health codes, but because the city didn't like what they were doing there. Again, Mike insisted, it's the hypocrisy. "Other people can walk up and down the same sidewalks. No problem... The only thing that [was different for David's group] is their purpose for being there. And that's not a constitutionally valid reason for making a distinction. And so, again, they're singling out people who are there because their religious faith compels them to try to save these babies. [But] if it's lawful to be on the sidewalk for any purpose, then it's lawful to be on that sidewalk for the purposes that they want to."

ADF has been trying to work with Charlotte officials to get the city to relent. But so far, they're only digging in -- to their own detriment, Mike warns. Any pretense they had for the arrest won't stand up in the civil suit that's been filed. "Once we... get to the judge... I'm hoping for and expect success."

One reason he's so confident? The Trump administration. Not only has the president leveled the playing field in the courts with his nominations, but the Justice Department has been actively fighting these cases alongside the victims and churches. They've intervened in these new lawsuits, insisting "religious freedom is important and being violated... by local actors and local governments. So we really appreciate the Trump administration and [Attorney] General William Barr, in particular, for their courageous stand."