Trump, Pence and lots of governors keep our hands full during the pandemic

Amit Pal
Director of Communications
Freedom From Religion Foundation

The coronavirus scourge has kept us at the Freedom From Religion Foundation busier than ever countering the irresponsibility of theocratic officials.

We’ve had to shut down our headquarters at Freethought Hall and work remotely from home. But this doesn’t mean that things have slowed down. Quite the contrary.

Trump promises “packed churches”
Let’s start at the very top. President Trump has been engaging in all sorts of religion-related weirdness — such as promising “packed churches” during Easter  — and we’ve been calling him out on it. The Trump administration’s groveling before the Christian Nationalist crowd for cynical electoral gain is unconstitutional — and it is jeopardizing everyone’s health and safety, we pointed out.


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Pence asks people to donate to churches
Trump’s second in command, Mike Pence, did his own bit by asking Americans to open their purse strings for churches.

“The Founders recognized the danger of aligning government with religion, which is why our founding documents specifically separate the two,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote to Pence. “In modern times, the Supreme Court has expressed this principle by stating that the government must not appear to ‘endorse’ religion. There is scarcely a clearer endorsement than a direct solicitation for donations.”


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Catholic League gets mad at us for taking on Pence
We’re not sure if we got Pence’s attention, but we certainly caught the eye of the frothing-at-the-mouth Catholic League, which directed its members to send their condemnations our way. We can handle that in the service of freethought.

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Congress should abstain a bit less
At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Congress was engaging in its own religion-related shenanigans. We blasted a $40 million allocation for “abstinence-only” education programs slipped into the stimulus package. Such programs are rooted in conservative religion, promoted by Christian Nationalists, and do not work, we emphasized.

“What makes this especially absurd is that public schools are mostly closed, with no end in sight,” Annie Laurie remarked. “What a waste of resources when our hospitals and brave medical personnel are without adequate personal protection equipment, adequate supply of ventilators and adequate number of coronavirus tests.”

Don’t exempt your churches, governors!
The state-level response to the pandemic has kept us occupied. Some states have actually exempted church congregations from curbs on large gatherings, and some churches have even asserted that it would be unconstitutional for the state to prohibit large in-person worship services. Governors must include worship services and other large church congregations among the gatherings they limit to protect the public health, we urged in a letter sent out to the chief executives of all 50 states. And we asked you all to assist in this effort by insisting to your governors that these rules be obeyed by everyone.

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What’s wrong with state officials?
Don’t even get us started with governors. So many of them have been out of control that we’ve had to serially reprimand them — and remind them of their constitutional duties. The South Carolina governor repeatedly organized prayers before important coronavirus-related press conferences. We chided the Mississippi governor for misusing social media over the virus, including a lengthy biblical sermon he engaged in on Facebook Live. Utah Gov. Garry Herbert issued an official proclamation declaring March 20-22 as a “Weekend of Prayer and Service in Utah” as his answer to coping with the coronavirus scourge. The Oklahoma governor decided to take it a step further by proclaiming March 26 as an official day of prayer and then preaching a lengthy sermon on that day, which he coerced Oklahoma channels into broadcasting. And officials in certain states, attorneys general in Texas and Ohio, in defiance of recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, included abortions among the “nonessential” medical procedures that are being delayed. Cut it out, all you guys!

How to battle the faith virus
Not surprisingly, our radio show this week started off by summarizing our various complaints. Then we segued into an animated conversation with journalist and author Susan Jacoby, who advised us on how to battle the virus of faith. For a little comic relief, we featured Eric Idle’s “All Things Dull and Ugly,” (a lampoon of “The Lord God Made Them All”-style hymns). And for comfort music, a campaign promoted by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, we played “In a Dark Time,” a Philip Appleman poem lyrically set to music by co-host Dan Barker.


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Be transported into ‘musical heaven’ this Sunday
Our “Freethought Matters” TV show this Sunday will help you deal with the pandemic: It’s the first of a two-part series in which FFRF Co-President/ “Freethought Matters” co-host Dan Barker and classical pianist Jarred Dunn take us on a musical excursion through the freethought history of classical repertoire. Barker and Dunn discuss the lack of belief of such immortals as Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Rossini, Verdi and Chopin and play select compositions from their oeuvre. We’re proud to present a sublime distraction from our current situation. Here’s where you can watch the show Sunday. Or you can always catch it on our YouTube channel.


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Enjoy the show, stay at home and keep safe. With your support and good wishes, we’ll carry on our work, even if remotely, on the behalf of constitutional principles and freethought, needed more in this time than ever.

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