Liberty Counsel Fights for Right to Panic

Today, Christian legal defense group Liberty Counsel added to the hysteria surrounding stay at home orders by telling supporters that Kansas City, MO authorities have demanded church membership lists. According LC, it is just like the Nazis!

The Kansas City government is now DEMANDING that churches turn over membership lists, along with the names, telephone numbers and physical addresses of anyone who enters a church! This order also applies to all businesses.

The new order states that by recording names and contact information, the health department will be able “to more quickly trace, test, and isolate individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19.” Anyone who does not provide this information should be refused entrance!

The Germans did this very thing to Jews – collecting the names and locations of all known synagogue attendees – in the early days of the Nazi regime.

Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined Nazi-like measures designed to surveil, track and spy upon what was once a FREE American people. Yet that is exactly what Kansas City’s misguided government officials are now demanding.

Here is what the mayor of Kansas City posted on the city website:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas today—in consultation with Kansas City Health Department Director Rex Archer, M.D.—announced Kansas City’s phased reopening plan.

Beginning May 15, all Kansas City businesses will be able to open, subject to a “10/10/10 Rule.”

The 10/10/10 Rule specifies that all non-essential Kansas City businesses must limit the number of customers allowed in their establishment at one time to no more than 10 percent of building occupancy or 10 people (whichever is larger), and record the names, contact information, and approximate entry/exit time of all customers who are on premises and seated for more than 10 minutes. Establishments such as grocery stores, medical and dental offices, pharmacies, and other essential businesses are not subject to the 10/10/10 Rule.

Gyms, museums, bars and in-person restaurant dining will open with additional Health Department guidance on May 15 to best protect workers and patrons.

“More important than moving quickly is moving carefully and responsibly, and the steps we’re taking today allow our businesses to return to productivity while keeping their workers and customers safe,” said Mayor Lucas.

Based on public health guidance, non-essential businesses that are not open to the public will be permitted to open one week from today, subject to social distancing guidance. Religious gatherings – including weddings and funerals – of 10 people inside and 50 people outside can resume on the same date, provided social distancing is maintained and event organizers record the names and contact information of all attendees. In the interest of public health and subject to City Order, any Kansas Citian who does not yet feel safe returning to a non-essential workplace cannot be compelled by their employer to return prior to May 15.

Membership lists are not required. Those in attendance should be recorded in the event there is a sickness and those present need to be contacted. Note that the names and contact information doesn’t have to be turned in to anyone if there is no sickness. The information is for contract tracing if there is an illness.

LC is spreading paranoia and is a part of the problem right now. All public health experts recommend testing and contact tracing as a way to open business and slow the spread of the virus. If church groups can meet with the constraints of social distancing, then if the curve has flattened, there is case that they should be allowed to. However, responsible church leaders should keep track of attenders for the purpose of tracing those people to tell them they may have been exposed if that becomes necessary.

There is precedent for the stay at home orders and limits on public gatherings, including churches (see the image above). In 1918, during the Spanish Flu pandemic, large public gatherings of all kinds were closed. Now, as LC’s article admits, churches are not being singled out and so any comparison of Christians now to Jews in Nazi Germany is wrong and incredibly insensitive to the reality of the Holocaust.

 

1918 – Bakersfield, CA.

 

First Things and More COVID-19 Denialism

R.R. Reno and First Things has led the way in skepticism about the seriousness of COVID-19 and the need to social distance. I first looked at Reno’s historical revisionism last month in response to his objections to churches closing.

Today, Reno comes forward with an article titled, Coronavirus Reality Check. Well, I agree it is about the Coronavirus.

First paragraphs are supposed to get the reader’s attention and this one does its job.

The coronavirus pandemic is not and never was a threat to society. COVID-19 poses a danger to the elderly and the medically compromised. Otherwise, for most who present symptoms, it can be nasty and persistent, but is not life-threatening. A majority of those infected do not notice that they have the disease. Coronavirus presents us with a medical challenge, not a crisis. The crisis has been of our own making.

In what most public health experts believe is the beginning of the COVID-19 ordeal, Reno pronounces the pandemic no threat to society. However, for Reno, society is something and someone other than the elderly and the medically compromised. This exclusion is reason enough to question what comes next.

Reno’s dismissal of COVID-19 as a threat is based on a sunny reading of selected findings about mortality rates. He gets his first comparison between the flu and COVID-19 very wrong when he writes:

The next day, Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis sifted through the data and predicted less widespread infection and a fatality rate of between 0.05 and 1.0 percent—not that different from the common flu. The coronavirus is not the common flu. It has different characteristics, afflicting the old more than the young, men more than women. Nevertheless, all data trends since mid-March show that Ferguson was fantastically wrong and Ioannidis was largely right about its mortal threat.

Reno here compares Ioannidis’ speculations about COVID-19’s death rate (.05-1%) to that of the common flu. This is an irresponsible and misleading comparison. According to the CDC website, there were 2 flu deaths per 100,000 people in 2017. Most recent estimates I have seen for the flu are at about .1% (not 1.0%). Much of Reno’s argument is based on this spurious comparison. He really wants COVID-19 to be comparable to the flu so we can just blame the frantic infectious disease crazies and get back to normal.

Since Reno insists Ioannidis has had the better model, let’s see how his predictions have worked out. In his March Stat article, Ioannidis wrote:

If we assume that case fatality rate among individuals infected by SARS-CoV-2 is 0.3% in the general population — a mid-range guess from my Diamond Princess analysis — and that 1% of the U.S. population gets infected (about 3.3 million people), this would translate to about 10,000 deaths.

As I write this, according to Worldometer.info, the death toll in the U.S. is 56,173.

Reno is correct that the fatality rate is likely to be much lower than the 2-5% that is showing up in the states. Due to the puzzling cases of asymptomatic carriers of the virus, many people have it and don’t know it. However, even if it is .3%, that is three times higher than the flu. If it is .3% (which it appears to be in Chelsea, MA — a place cited by Reno but without stats), that would be a huge increase in deaths as the virus spreads. The fact is we don’t know what is going to happen and Reno’s appeal to science is tendentious. He picks what he likes.

Let me say that I am not unsympathetic to the impulse to get back to normal. As a psychology professor, I realize that poverty, isolation, and joblessness make existing bad conditions worse for many. A complete shutdown over many months would require a coordination and distribution of resources to the masses which the current administration is incapable of performing.

Due to the bungling of testing and crisis management by the federal administration there was no way to know where the disease was prevalent. It is highly likely that the stay at home orders (based on experience in previous pandemics) prevented outbreaks of the disease. Americans responded well to the guidelines and lives have been saved as a result. It is a mystery to me why skeptics don’t appear to entertain the notion that prevention worked.

However, Reno wants the whole thing to have been a waste of time and money. He writes:

We need to be told the truth about COVID-19’s effect. It is not a uniquely perilous disease; for people under 35, it may be less dangerous than the flu.

I agree we need to be told the truth, but we don’t know all the truth yet.  There is much scientists are still learning about it. An article in Science summarizing research on the virus to date concluded:

Despite the more than 1000 papers now spilling into journals and onto preprint servers every week, a clear picture is elusive, as the virus acts like no pathogen humanity has ever seen.

Reno wants us to believe his expert. However, his expert was wrong too. Ioannidis was close on the mortality rate but his assumption of 1% infection rate was way off. There is a lot that is still not known and caution in the face of the unknown still seems like a wise policy to me.

 

I’ll Be Home for Easter

Literally, I will be home for Easter. My wife and I will be watching our church service on the television in our living room. I’ll miss seeing my brothers and sisters at church, but Easter will happen and God will be fine with it.

Some Christian pastors are not happy about this, and some Christians are stirring up a ruckus. For example, the president of the Claremont (CA) Institute, Ryan Williams, appears to be calling for civil disobedience.

I don’t understand the problem. I am naturally a skeptic and don’t like being ordered around, but I really like breathing. Taking rational precautions to avoid COVID-19 just seems smart. I can tell the difference between an arbitrary usurpation of my natural rights and a situational one in a crisis.

The Common Good 1918 Style

In 1918, the people of Claremont, CA apparently didn’t mind putting the common good ahead of their rights. With just a little bit of searching, I found this clipping from the October 26 edition of the Pomona Bulletin Sun.

During the Spanish Flu pandemic, churches all over the U.S. closed. There were some clergy who complained but here is a truth: closing churches didn’t lead to a loss of religious rights. It was temporary and a benefit to all citizens. Christianity survived; some might say it thrived.

Some might protest, “But Easter?” Well, Easter is an important day in Christianity to be sure. But Christians aren’t supposed to worry about how we keep “holy days.” The book of Colossians tells us, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” (2:16).

In my tradition, I get no more grace or credit for going to church on Easter than any other day. The first Easter the grave was empty. This year our church will be pretty empty too. But that’s okay. If He is taking attendance, God can keep track of where we all are.

On the Constitutional question, legal scholar Jonathan Turley opined today that the state has the right to halt church gatherings temporarily. I agree that the state has a compelling interest in stopping the spread of the virus and has not singled out religion or any particular church. The edicts are temporary, impose no permanent harm on churches, and do not prevent other means of worship (e.g., online). Although untested, I agree with Turley that the courts would likely uphold the orders to close.

But I really cringe to hear about churches taking things to that extreme. Christians are not of this world, but we are in it. And if we are going to do any good in it, we shouldn’t put our desire to meet for a church service over the good of our neighbors.

Addendum:

The technology of 1918 was the local newspaper and pastors used the papers to communicate with their congregations. The Pomona Bulletin Sun (11/3/1918) gave local pastors space to give greetings to their flock at home.

I appreciate this winsome word from Methodist preacher Walter Buckner: