Sunday Suits: New Bill Saves Churches Court Drama

May 26, 2020

If there's one thing that everyone can admit about this virus, it's how impossible it would be to tackle without churches. From the president to his cabinet secretaries and needy people on the ground, there's one refrain that keeps echoing across this crisis: ministry, from even the smallest of communities, makes all the difference. "The federal government can provide a role," Secretary Chad Wolf agreed. But having been on the ground and seeing the deep need, he knows, "it's the faith-based organizations... that are the backbone of the response." And now, more than ever, we need to protect them.

As churches and charities race to deliver diapers, clothing, food, money, supplies, and even medical help to thousands of victims, the last thing they should worry about is being sued for their outreach. "Our churches shouldn't be penalized for doing the right thing," Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) told Sarah Perry on "Washington Watch." "Our faith-based communities have been at the forefront of providing help and services to those in need... [they need] the assurance to [operate] with confidence by providing an extra layer of legal protections for them."

In her new bill, the Service Assurance Act, Vicky wants to make it clear that a nonprofit can't be held liable for any "act or omission... with respect to any harm arising from exposure to, or infection by, the virus that causes COVID-19 during a public health emergency with respect to COVID-19." Obviously, if that harm is caused by recklessness or negligence, then that's a different matter -- as her plan notes -- but groups like Samaritan's Purse or the Salvation Army can't afford to be sidetracked "by those who would use this pandemic in order to make some extra money."

Sadly, Vicky shakes her head, "there are some people out there, some vultures in certain law professions, that just look for opportunities for lawsuits. Even if they're baseless, they're hopeful that the organization will settle, and they'll get some money along the way. But, you know, our nonprofits and our churches, they don't have extra money. And even the threat of litigation will cause many of them to shutter. We cannot allow that. So it's vital that we get this bill passed."

In what Vicky called a "God thing," the president happened to come out strongly in favor of churches reopening just as she was dropping this bill. Altogether, she believes, "[it] sends a very strong message across this country that faith matters, that the leaders in this country understand and appreciate the role of faith in this country. And we're going to protect it and enable us to continue to go forth without fear of lawsuits."

And that's a priority, she's careful to point out that GOP leadership shares. Both House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed that if there's a next phase in stimulus relief "healthcare workers, small businesses, and other Americans on the front lines of this fight must receive strong protections from frivolous lawsuits." Fortunately for them -- and for us -- Vicky Hartzler is already on it.