EXCLUSIVE: Cruz bill would block coronavirus funding from state, local governments discriminating against religion
Mary Margaret Olohan on July 28, 2020
Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz introduced a bill Tuesday that would prevent state and local governments engaged in religious discrimination from receiving federal funding during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Safeguarding Americans from Coronavirus and Religious Exercise Discrimination (SACRED) Act would block state and local governments from receiving coronavirus relief funding if Attorney General Bill Barr finds that those governments are discriminating against religious individuals or religious institutions and violating First Amendment rights.
Barr would have to certify that the governments were no longer discriminating against religious freedoms in coronavirus regulations for them to receive funding, according to the text of the proposed legislation.
“Throughout this pandemic we’ve seen numerous examples of state and local governments instituting discriminatory regulations that unfairly target people of faith and which restrict houses of worship from operating while exempting secular gatherings and operations from the same rules,” Cruz said in a statement provided to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“As Congress continues to provide relief funds to combat the impact of COVID-19, it is crucial that we protect the First Amendment right of religious liberty from discrimination,” Cruz added. “That’s why I’ve introduced the SACRED Act. By blocking funds from governments that discriminate against religious organizations, we can fairly protect religious liberty and the rights of those who seek to gather together safely for worship.”
The bill comes as governors and local governments renew coronavirus travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders following months of shutdowns and quarantines that critics say have been rife with religious discrimination.
Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam banned gatherings of 10 or more people through initial stay-at-home orders, restrictions which effectively banned church services. Authorities have arrested multiple religious leaders for defying coronavirus orders, such as Pastor Tony Spell of the Louisiana Life Tabernacle church and Florida megachurch pastor Rodney Howard-Browne.
Attorney General William Barr set the tone for the U.S. Department of Justice’s attitude towards religious freedom during the pandemic by warning in an early April statement that “even in times of emergency,” federal law prohibits religious discrimination.
Barr also promised that the DOJ would be watching for any state or local government that “singles out, targets, or discriminates against any house of worship for special restrictions.”
Since that statement was issued, the DOJ has intervened in multiple cases of coronavirus rules targeting churches and pastors, specifically in Nevada, California, Oklahoma, Illinois, Virginia, and Mississippi.
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