Closing Churches, Opening Jails - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Closing Churches, Opening Jails
Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church (YouTube screenshot)

Thousands of prisoners have been released from jails since the coronavirus crisis hit. “In Los Angeles County, Sheriff Alex Villanueva has embarked on what appears to be the largest U.S. effort to release inmates, freeing 1,700 people this month, or about 10 percent of the population of one of the nation’s largest jail systems,” reports the New York Times.

The New York Post has reported on the case of a child rapist who was released to protect him from the coronavirus:

A Massachusetts man convicted of repeatedly raping a 12-year-old boy was ordered released from jail Friday — because he suffers from health conditions that can make him vulnerable to coronavirus, according to new reports.

Glenn Christie, 54, who uses a wheelchair, was ordered released from the Massachusetts Treatment Center by Superior Court Judge Heidi Brieger, WBUR reported. One of the conditions is that Christie tests negative for COVID-19, the station reported.

Christie was convicted of child rape and indecent assault on a child under 14 and was being held for violating his probation conditions, according to the reports.

This appears to be happening throughout the world, with countries such as Great Britain announcing large releases of prisoners.

One would have thought the safety of the community trumps a prisoner’s right to be free of exposure to sickness in jail. But, no, we’re told that opening up prisons is sound public policy.

Meanwhile, in keeping with our pagan times, as prisoners leave jail, some pastors enter it. In Tampa, pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested for violating public health orders after holding Sunday services. In Baton Rouge, pastor Tony Spell was arrested for not observing a ban against large gatherings. Headlines from abroad tell a similar story: “Priests in India face charges for breaking COVID-19 restrictions on mass gatherings,” and so on.

The same media that doesn’t question wardens for releasing prisoners is grilling governors who have not banned religious services. “Texas Governor Says Attending Church Is ‘Essential’ But Abortions Can Wait Indefinitely,” reads the headline of a Forbes article.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been called “reckless” for deeming religious services essential activity. But his guidance to churches is hardly outlandish. It is no different than governors telling people that they can shop for food, provided that they observe reasonable precautions.

Only in a de-Christianized society in which the adoration of God is treated as no more significant than a music festival would governors get grief for keeping churches open during a crisis. Abbott’s order, issued jointly with Attorney General Ken Paxton, simply reflects the centrality of religious activity in America’s Judeo-Christian tradition:

The government must give special consideration to houses of worship when issuing orders related to the COVID-19 crisis. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I of the Texas Constitution protect the right of Texans to freely exercise their religion. In addition, the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) provides even stronger protections to faith communities, and government must ensure that it complies with RFRA when it acts. Thus, when state or local governments issue orders prohibiting people from providing or obtaining certain services, they must ensure that these orders do not violate these constitutional and statutory rights.

At the same time, Abbott calls on churches to take public-health precautions:

[H]ouses of worship are to conduct their activities in accordance with the White House Guidelines.
For example:

  • Instruct sick employees, volunteers, and guests to stay home;
  • Practice social distancing by maintaining appropriate distance between people;
  • Maintain good hygiene by washing your hands frequently, using hand sanitizer, using your elbow to cover coughs, and not touching your face; and
  • Clean and disinfect work areas frequently. Houses of worship, like providers of other essential services, are to follow additional guidance from the White House and CDC whenever possible.

It tells one a lot about a secularized America’s assessment of risk that it considers releasing prisoners safe and leaving churches open dangerous. And it is measure of the docility of churches to an increasingly godless state that so few of them have objected to the quarantine measures. The Catholic Church, which traditionally stood as a buffer against the overreaching state, has now become the most slavish church to follow it.

George Neumayr
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George Neumayr, a senior editor at The American Spectator, is author most recently of The Biden Deception: Moderate, Opportunist, or the Democrats' Crypto-Socialist?
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