FFRF keeps pressure on public officials during pandemic

The FFRF Legal Team has been as busy as ever these past two months as it ramps up its campaign to stop public officials from promoting religion during the coronavirus pandemic.

During normal times, a large percentage of FFRF’s legal work is focused on public schools around the country.

Now, FFRF has turned its attention to governors and other officials in charge of what happens during this troubling time.

The chart on this page shows what FFRF’s Legal Team and Strategic Response Team have been responding to lately. More letters have been sent since this issue went to press.

FFRF sent out mailings to all 50 governors about not exempting church gatherings from their shelter in place orders.

It also sent out specific letters to 17 governors, cautioning against the exemptions they’ve granted to religious gatherings from prohibitory orders that could have dire consequences. 

“States all over the country, from Connecticut and Pennsylvania to New Mexico and Colorado, have exempted religious congregations of various sizes from coronavirus-related crowd regulations,” FFRF writes in a press release. “Religious gatherings are a severe community health hazard, FFRF emphasizes. The data doesn’t lie. One-third of all COVID cases in one large California county can be traced to church services.”

But it’s not just letters that FFRF has been sending out to state/church separation malefactors.

In response to near-daily accounts of government officials stepping over the state/church line, FFRF has sent out press releases and newspaper op-eds to inform the public. Here are snippets from a few of them:

• March 23: FFRF protests Vice President Pence’s appeal for church contributions.

“At a Coronavirus Task Force press briefing on March 21, the vice president told Americans that if they don’t attend a church service due to the global pandemic, they should still ‘go ahead and make that donation.’”

• March 26: Governors must prohibit church gatherings, FFRF urges.

“The rights the First Amendment guarantees, such as free assembly and the free exercise of religion, are limited. In fact, the government already regularly limits worship gatherings if they jeopardize public health. Preventing large gatherings due to a pandemic is crucial.”

• April 2: It’s unconstitutional to bail out churches, FFRF and others remind Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley.

“A group of eight civil rights and religious freedom organizations sent a letter to SBA urging the agency to respect existing regulations and the Constitution. ‘Taxpayers cannot be forced to fund churches, even in a pandemic,’ comments FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel.”

• April 2: FFRF welcomes police action against religious scofflaws.

“Zealous ministers nationwide are denying the science of preventive measures and the authority of the state to enforce them, with some even promising that they possess supernatural powers to ward off the coronavirus. . . . We need to see more such arrests — and subsequent convictions. Religion is not a license to risk the lives of Americans, any more than it is a license to discriminate.”

• April 13: FFRF tutors members of Congress on the Constitution.

“FFRF is objecting on constitutional grounds to members of Congress urging federal agencies to include houses of worship in the stimulus package.

“For members of Congress to blithely cast aside long-standing principles of separation of state and church is to sacrifice religious freedom in a moment of panic, FFRF asserts.”

Chart of FFRF letter sent.