Ken Starr, who investigated Bill Clinton in the 1990’s as Whitewater independent counsel and also served as a U. S. Court of Appeals judge and Solicitor General of the United States, has written a new book entitled “Religious Liberty In Crisis” that warns against what Starr sees as the exploitation of the coronavirus pandemic by secular leaders in government to restrict religious liberty.
Political leaders, Starr claims, used the pandemic lockdowns to unnecessarily and unconstitutionally restrict the free exercise of religion by banning or severely restricting gatherings for worship, all the while allowing people to congregate for other purposes and allowing “essential” businesses to continue to operate.
“We have a huge problem,” Starr told Neil Cavuto on “Your World with Neil Cavuto. “The founding generation,” Starr said, “had a benevolent view of the role of faith in American life. The very first Congress, the same Congress that passed the First Amendment and presented to the states for debate and ratification also passed the Northwest Ordinance to govern Ohio and Indiana … [that said] Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
Starr went on to explain, “That was the law of the land, but it also reflected the first two words: religion and morality, as well as education or knowledge, are necessary to human happiness. The country doesn’t seem to be particularly happy right now. Does that have something to do, I happen to think it does, with the decline in social life and community life and also, frankly, churches, synagogues losing membership in so many parts of the country.”
Some states, including California and New York, have been sued for their inconsistent and seemingly arbitrary restrictions on churches that ban their services, while allowing business, including strip clubs and tattoo parlors, to remain open. The governor of Nevada demanded that churches close but allowed casinos to remain open. When a church held a worship service in a casino in an attempt to slip through what they hoped was a loophole, the governor slapped the church with a fine. Starr noted the Supreme Court ruling in favor of churches that have sued their states for relief from what they regard as unnecessary and unequal restrictions. The Supreme Court has come to the rescue of churches in some cases, over-turning bans on worship in California and New York, but has not always sided with the churches.
“We have to educate ourselves,” Starr told Cavuto, “the citizens, and not just cry against the heavens and say, ‘Oh, the sky is falling’ — rather to look to the Supreme Court of the United States for the great principles. They didn’t invent them. These principles that are embedded in our constitutional order and principles of freedom, including autonomy of religious institutions, including churches and church schools.”
Recent polls have shown that, for the first time in U. S. history, a majority of Americans say that they do not belong to a church. Attendance at Mass among Catholics has also suffered during the pandemic and there is pessimism among many that the numbers will not improve any time soon, but continue to decline.
All of this means, of course, that the faithful who are faithful must make a conscious effort to both live faithfully and challenge their less active confreres to become more active. The only truly Christian response to any challenge is joy. At the same time, Christians of all stripes have a duty to protect our rights under the Constitution. We must not lie back and accept the attempts by secular political leaders to abrogate our rights as citizens.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.