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Protecting Religious Freedom During Pandemic

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 18, 2020
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HILL of Arkansas. Mr. Speaker, today, I rise to address a pressing problem that concerns Americans' constitutional rights. The liberties enshrined in the Constitution still apply to every American, even in the midst of a national emergency.

It is becoming clear to many Americans that our national life has slid toward a double standard. For weeks, officials have asked the public to put life on hold and help fight this virus. The American people did their part and are doing their part, have made sacrifices to help our Nation, and continue to do their part.

But throughout this pandemic, we have seen a troubling trend of State leaders leaning on religious institutions harder than any other group or organization.

In 2018, Pope Francis, while addressing ``red martyrdom,'' those who face death and persecution on account of their religious beliefs, also warned our nations about ``white martyrdom,'' which occurs in democratic countries when freedom of religion is restricted.

So far, lawsuits claiming that State restrictions on religious gatherings infringe on freedom of religion have been filed in Kentucky, California, Louisiana, Virginia, and elsewhere.

In Virginia, at Lighthouse Fellowship Church's Palm Sunday service, there were only 16 people present, all properly socially distanced. Yet, the pastor was subjected, Mr. Speaker, to a criminal citation.

In Kansas, two churches settled with Democratic Governor Laura Kelly after they sued over her 10-person limit for religious services. A Federal judge ruled that the State appeared to have singled out religious activities for stricter treatment. Now, Kansas churches can hold those services as long as they abide by the protocols for businesses and other establishments, such as providing hand sanitizer, face masks, and social distancing.

In Kentucky, despite claiming that his order allowed congregants to attend drive-through services, Governor Andy Beshear had State police leave notices to self-isolate on churchgoers' windshields on Easter Sunday service at the Maryville Baptist Church outside of Louisville.

In defiance of the Governor's mandate, Pastor Jack Roberts, along with congregants, ripped up those notices and filed a lawsuit.

Mr. Speaker, a Federal appeals court sided with the pastor and blocked part of Beshear's order, allowing congregants to attend drive- in services. In the ruling, the three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals expressed support for the church's argument that it wasn't being treated fairly, noting ``hundreds'' of cars parked in the lot of the nearby grocery store on the same day the police informed churchgoers that they were violating the law.

``The breadth of the ban on religious services, together with a haven for numerous secular exceptions, should give pause to anyone who prizes religious freedom.'' That is what the judges wrote.

They continued, ``But it is not always easy to decide what is Caesar's and what is God's, and that is assuredly true in the context of a pandemic.''

Mr. Speaker, I commend the judges for standing up for the fundamental right of religious freedom, including the freedom of worship.

Americans have shown that they can convene for religious services in a responsible way. The compassion and care for communities of faith throughout the pandemic are needed now more than ever.

Our first Chief Executive, President Washington, prized our First Amendment to the Constitution, saying, ``No one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny and every species of religious persecution.''

Let's urge our colleagues in Congress, our State legislatures, our Governors, and down at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to honor Washington's passion for our enshrined right to religious liberty. Calling for Targeted COVID Relief

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Mr. HILL of Arkansas. Mr. Speaker, during this lame duck session, this House needs bipartisan leadership to achieve critical, needed COVID relief for central Arkansans.

The majority of these issues are easy and have significant bipartisan support.

We need to extend and expand the Paycheck Protection Program and ease paycheck protection forgiveness.

Pandemic unemployment payments need to be addressed in a way to help families but also encourage work.

Finally, States need flexibility on spending money from the CARES Act, and they need to change the deadline from the end of this year, 12/31, to a time in 2021.

We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

We call on Speaker Pelosi to call targeted, focused relief to the House floor today.

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