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Year of the Plague – 10 – Religious Exemptions Undercut Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ Effort to Contain COVID-19

April 6, 2020

Messiah Baptist Church on 44 Ave and Irving in Northwest Denver, open “until the Rapture”

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Although legal, it is a terrible mistake on Governor Polis’ part to grant such an exemption and yet another indication of the insidious role of the Religious’ Right’s growing influence over life in the country. He should have respected the separation of Church and State and banned church services and activities in the same manner that public school attendance and sporting events has been banned. It represents a danger to the public health and welfare of the state and a possible incubator to intensify the pandemic – something that should be obvious to everyone.

Religious fanatics everywhere are taking advantage.

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I went out walking in the neighborhood today for several hours in the early afternoon. Passed by the local Safeway; there were cars in the parking lot, but not that many. And then I strolled past Messiah Baptist Church…

While all hell continues to break loose with the Coronavirus nation-wide, the situation here in Colorado might have started to slow a tiny bit; That was a part of the mixed message of Governor Jared Polis’ remarks tonight (Monday, April 6, 2020).

On the one hand, the state wide Stay-At-Home order will be extended for two weeks until April 26; on the other Polis claims we’ve made some kind of turn around in fighting the virus.The doubling rate for those infected has gone from 1.5 days to 6 days. Things are getting better but all the indications are – the Governor’s optimism aside – they are getting worse as they are throughout the country.

A regional hub with its world famous ski industry, Colorado is getting hit much harder by the Coronavirus than any of the surrounding states (Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, (a touch of) Oklahoma, New Mexico and Utah.

That the epidemic is not at the level of New York, Louisiana, Texas, etc. in large measure as a result of the efforts of Governor Polis who has, with certain limitations, tried to take the bull by the horns and do so early on. Still, there have been some of the same problems that have nagged other places: shortages of hospital space, ventilators, overworked medical personnel, people and commercial establishments ignoring the Stay-At-Home order (this includes a number of bars, restaurants in my neighborhood from what I can tell, and a failure on the part of the state to enforce violations in the Stay-At-Home ruling as well as loopholes in the ruling itself…

  • Despite strong recommendations to stay home, there were three, four nights of celebration in downtown Denver – usual drunken festivities in connection with St. Patricks’ Day, which perhaps should be called St. Patrick’s week. As on Florida and California beaches and for the New Orleans Jazz Festival, ignoring social distancing was par for the course.
  • Colorado ski areas remained open well into mid March even after the governor had banned gatherings larger than fifty people;  several remained open longer until they were finally forced to close. Who knows how many additional people were infected by this delay, the source of which is not hard to discern: an industry that put profits over public health.
  • Colorado is short 7000 ventilators; the federal government has released a few, but nothing near what is needed. Commenting on the Trump Administration’s failure to release the necessary ventilators from the Strategic National Stockpile, Governor Polis noted that “I can’t begin to express to you the frustration” for getting those supplies from the federal government”. Even worse, when Colorado “had a lead” to purchase ventilators from a manufacturer “FEMA” (the Federal Emergency Management Administrtion) outbid Colorado and “swept them up” just one example of the viciousness with which the Trump Administration is treating the nation’s Democratic governors.

On March 29,  four days after issuing a state-wide Stay-At-Home order, Governor Polis revised his original degree that no gathering of more than ten people could meet. Under pressure from powerful right-wing (mostly) Republican-oriented churches in the state, he made an exemption for religious institutions, the exact wording of which is:

“Houses of worship may remain open, however, these institutions are encouraged to implement electronic platforms to conduct services whenever possible or to conduct smaller (10 or fewer congregants), more frequent services to allow strict compliance with Social Distancing Requirements,”

Although legal, it is a terrible mistake on Governor Polis’ part to grant such an exemption and yet another indication of the insidious role of the Religious’ Right’s growing influence over life in the country. He should have respected the separation of Church and State and banned church services and activities in the same manner that public school attendance and sporting events has been banned. It represents a danger to the public health and welfare of the state and a possible incubator to intensify the pandemic – something that should be obvious to everyone.

Religious fanatics everywhere are taking advantage.

Although Polis “recommends” that churches practice social distancing, there is no enforcement mechanism and in the same manner the order “recommends” but does not order churches to limit congregations to ten churchgoers – meaning that from a legal standpoint, where churches are concerned the Stay-At-Home order is essentially irrelevant.

As is well known, religious institutions in other states have also been granted similar exemptions. An article in The Guardian details just how widespread the church exemptions have become. The same article quotes the liberal “Center of American Progress” describing such exemptions as “an alarming trend.”

Alarming? Yes. Legal? Apparently. Irresponsible and dangerous from a health point of view? Of course. But this is the USA – and we’re Number One in making missiles and jet fighters when we should be producing ventilators and masks and where nowhere in the world do people vote and act against their own self-interest  with pride!

Several Colorado churches are still open to the public and holding services as the highly-contagious novel coronavirus continues to spread across the state. Messiah Baptist Church, here in Northwest Denver goes so far as to insist on remaining open during the pandemic “until the Rapture.”

Given the Governor’s exemption for religious institutions – and an interpretation from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment – Messiah Baptist Church is doing so legally.

How many churches in Colorado are simply ignoring Stay-At-Home orders I do not know. A recent story by Fox News cited three: Zion Baptist Church and Messiah Baptist Church in Denver were mentioned as well as a Colorado Springs church.

Polis’ religious exemption undercuts the active he’s taken to fight the pandemic in other ways. I can’t believe he doesn’t understand that.

 

 

One Comment leave one →
  1. William Conklin permalink
    April 6, 2020 9:18 pm

    This is an unbelievable situation. The economy is closed down, if the workers don’t go back to work soon, Capitalism will finally bite the dust and the people will want a different system. However, gun sales are way up, there are more guns than people in this country. We are a country with many different religions and ethnicities and we fund the most racist enterprise in the world: “Israel.” If the people get too frustrated, there will be violence and it will not be nice. There could be different ethnicities gunning down each other. This is an extremely serious moment. I didn’t think I would live long enough to see the last gasp of Capitalism, but it is on the doorstep. Think for a minute: Instead of warehouses full of medical supplies just in case of an epidemic that is sure to happen, we have nothing. Capitalists don’t make money stocking up for epidemics. They make money screwing the middle class for overpriced drugs and selling them worthless health insurance. I see that the Capitalist Neo-Feudalists have two choices: Open up the country and enslave the workers to keep the whole charade going, or move to Socialism. The first thing to do would be to nationalize the commons, forgive student debt. Create government jobs for tens of millions, rebuilding the infrastructure, close the military bases. Eliminate the rich. Simply have a one hundred percent tax on all income over 200,000. Have a 100 percent inheritance tax over ten million. Medicare for all, Cut the Military budget ferociously, destroy all nuclear weapons. Build a Marshal Plan for Central America. If it takes pitchforks to do this, well that is the way history works.

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