The Arkansas legislature has now passed a bill that would turn churches into potential virus super-spreaders by blocking the governor from shutting down churches in the event of another pandemic.
Now the State Senate has followed suit, voting 31-0 (with 4 voting present) on the same bill.
As I said before, this bill is more like catnip to religious conservatives than anything else — because it’s not like governors have specifically blocked churches from gatherings while allowing atheists to meet at a bar. But church leaders have routinely compared themselves — wrongly — to essential places like grocery stores… even though such places require face masks and don’t involve public singing much less lingering and chatting with strangers.
Still, this bill would create a new obstacle during an emergency when states might be trying to prevent a virus from spreading.
American Atheists pointed out that the State Senate voted on the bill only after it passed through the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs, “chaired by noted Christian nationalist Jason Rapert.”
“Today, lawmakers showed they care more about pandering to fringe church leaders than protecting all Arkansans,” said Gill. “During the hearing, Senator Hammer, one of the bill’s sponsors, admitted he closed down his church for two months due to COVID-19 — yet wants to let other churches stay open and become COVID-19 hotspots. This is irresponsible and deadly.”
“Arkansas’s church superspreader bill will only aggravate Arkansas’s coming wave of coronavirus infections and deaths,” said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists. “When Arkansans ask who’s to blame, they need only look to their legislators.”
Rapert, the wannabe-Lt. Gov., even talked about American Atheists during his floor speech in support of the bill, saying at the 2:12:12 mark that the group represented “what’s wrong with America” because they dared to put the lives of Arkansas citizens ahead of his desire to allow Arkansas citizens to walk into a Christian death trap.
He reiterated that sentiment on Twitter last night:
And the Bible says in Psalm 14:1, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” I pray the @AmericanAtheist will acknowledge God, eternal life and their own spiritual condition. In the meantime, every attack they launch just proves to my voters I am doing the right thing. https://t.co/LBJbOA3m8n
— Jason Rapert (@jasonrapert) February 4, 2021
Rather than responding to their statement, Rapert tried to convert them, then acted like any opposition to his stupid ideas makes him right. First graders on the playground have stronger rebuttals than that.
By the way, it’s not just Republicans who are the problem here. Democratic State Senator Linda Chesterfield spoke in support of the bill at the 2:24:30 mark saying she planned to vote for it because “I think people have the right to decide whether or not they want to kill themselves.”
She’s wrong, too. This isn’t skydiving. The problem with the pandemic is that innocent people are dying because of the irresponsible actions of others — including pastors and worshipers who refuse to abide by health precautions because they idiotically act like Jesus won’t hear them if they pray or sing at home.
Keep in mind American Atheists isn’t trying to shut down churches at all. They want state officials to listen to scientists when it comes to keeping people safe — and if that means preventing gatherings where a virus can spread, then that rule should apply to everyone. A deadly virus doesn’t care what religion you are. And unlike Rapert, atheists aren’t asking for any special treatment by the sole virtue of what they happen to believe about God.
Rapert and all the other Arkansas legislators supporting this bill have no desire to keep people safe. They would rather see people die by attending a church service than live while watching a livestream of that exact same church service. There’s no reason to give religious institutions a pandemic exemption. This is Christian pandering at its deadliest.
How many people have to die before “pro-life” conservatives come to their senses? Apparently 445,000 dead Americans aren’t enough.
The bill now awaits the Republican governor’s signature.
(Image via Shutterstock)