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World News: August 2020

Vice President Mike Pence Mocked for Praying with Coronavirus Task Force

A White House photo of Vice President Mike Pence praying with his coronavirus task force team has sparked a heated debate on social media about religion, politics and the efficacy of prayer.

The simple photo shows Pence sitting in a chair and bowing in prayer as more than 15 others in the room also pray.

“Mike Pence and his coronavirus emergency team praying for a solution. We are so screwed,” tweeted Thomas Chatterton Williams, a writer for New York Magazine and Harper’s Magazine. His tweet attracted 4,300 retweets and 1,300 likes and helped start the debate.

Others agreed with Williams.

“Mike Pence can pray whenever he likes, but I do find it odd to see him leading a prayer during a meeting of the coronavirus task force with people like the head of the CDC and Dr. [Anthony S.] Fauci,” Matt Novak, an editor for Gizmodo, tweeted.

Novelist Irvine Welsh also commented on Twitter: “Look at these utterly useless c***s praying for the #coronavirus to go.”

Many others, though, defended Pence.

Evangelist Franklin Graham tweeted, “A touching & powerful photo of @VP @Mike_Pence & the President’s Coronavirus Taskforce praying when they met last week in his office. Thank you VP Pence and each one who is serving. Let’s join them in asking God for His wisdom, direction, & help in the response to this virus.”

Writer Jonathan Merritt tweeted, “Criticize Mike Pence all you want for being inept in his strategy to dealing with this. But mocking him for praying – like 79 percent of Americans have done in the past 3 months – is why so many regular Americans despise wine-and-cheese liberals.”

Princeton professor Robert P. George said the debate over the picture is illustrative of America’s political divide.

“I don’t know anything about Mr. Williams, but this photograph and his comment perfectly illustrate the profound division in our culture,” George tweeted. “It’s ‘obvious’ to some of us that one of the things you do in a crisis is pray. It’s ‘obvious’ to others that praying is (worse than) foolish. I appreciate Mr. Williams’ candor, and I don’t condemn him for it. He says what a great many of his fellow secular progressives think, but are careful not to say out loud. It’s much better for all of us if we are clear on where we stand.”


Ohio Gov. Signs Bill Protecting Students’ ‘Religious Expression’ at School, in Homework

The Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act, which passed the Senate 32-0 and the House 90-3, says public school students “may engage in religious expression before, during, and after school hours in the same manner and to the same extent” that “a student is permitted to engage in secular activities or expression before, during, and after school hours.”

Further, the new law prevents school districts from prohibiting a student from “engaging in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments.” Teachers “shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work,” the law says.

“Grades and scores shall be calculated using ordinary academic standards,” the law says.

The law defines “religious expression” as:

  • “Religious gatherings, including but not limited to prayer groups, religious clubs, ‘see you at the pole’ gatherings, or other religious gatherings.”
  • “Distribution of written materials or literature of a religious nature.”
  • “Any other activity of a religious nature, including wearing symbolic clothing or expression of a religious viewpoint, provided that the activity is not obscene, vulgar, offensively lewd, or indecent.”

The Citizens for Community Values, a Christian organization, applauded legislators and DeWine for supporting the new law.

“No student should have to hide their faith just because they enter a public school,” said Aaron Baer, president of the organization. “The [law] is carefully crafted to ensure school administrators can’t unfairly penalize students of all faiths, or no faith.”

An Ohio House summary explained the purpose behind the new law.

“Current law prohibits a school district board of education from adopting any policy or rule respecting or promoting an establishment of religion or prohibiting any student from the exercise or expression of the student’s religious beliefs,” the summary says. “The [new law] removes a provision of that law permitting a school district to limit the exercise or expression of a student’s religious beliefs to lunch period or other noninstructional time periods when students are free to associate.”



Judge: N.Y. Can’t Restrict Churches while Permitting Protests during Pandemic

A U.S. federal judge sided with houses of worship Friday in an injunction against New York officials, saying it’s likely unconstitutional to restrict churches and synagogues to 25 percent capacity while allowing recent protests and not similarly restricting businesses.

The lawsuit was filed by the Thomas More Society on behalf of two Catholic priests and three Jewish congregants against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, claiming a violation of the First Amendment’s protections of free exercise of religion and free speech and freedom to assemble, as well as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

An order by Cuomo limits houses of worship to 25 percent capacity during the pandemic.

Judge Gary L. Sharpe, in a 38-page decision, ruled the houses of worship had demonstrated a likelihood to succeed in their lawsuit.

Houses of worship, Sharpe wrote, had been singled out by the state’s orders.

“On its face, the 25% indoor capacity limitation applies only to houses of worship,” wrote Sharpe, who was nominated by President George W. Bush. “…  “[I]n other words, no other secular entity, save for those that remain closed in their entirety until Phase 4 or beyond, are limited to only 25% capacity.”

Sharpe also criticized Cuomo and de Blasio for limiting houses of worship while supporting mass gatherings of protesters.

“Governor Cuomo’s comments, which applauded and encouraged protesting and discouraged others from violating the outdoor limitations, likely demonstrate the creation of a de facto exemption,” Sharpe wrote. “… Mayor de Blasio … has also actively encouraged participation in protests and openly discouraged religious gatherings and threatened religious worshipers.”

Further, Sharpe ruled the state’s orders exceeded the “broad limits” Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts referenced in a May decision. Roberts, in that opinion, ruled against a California church and said states have wide latitude or “broad limits” to protect public health during a pandemic. New York had exceeded those limits, Sharpe wrote in his decision.

Thomas More Society special counsel Christopher Ferrara applauded the decision.

“We are pleased that Judge Sharpe was able to see through the sham of Governor Cuomo’s ‘Social Distancing Protocol’ which went right out the window as soon as he and Mayor de Blasio saw a mass protest movement they favored taking to the streets by the thousands,” Ferrara said. “Suddenly, the limit on ‘mass gatherings’ was no longer necessary to ‘save lives.’ … This decision is an important step toward inhibiting the suddenly emerging trend of exercising absolute monarchy on pretext of public health. What this kind of regime really meant in practice is freedom for me, but not for thee.”

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