5/17/20

Today I watched church service online and then participated in fellowship with other church members on Zoom. I took Penny for her run and did some editing on photographs. I delivered some photographs that I used in the blog to the people in the photographs.

San Luis Obispo County health officials are reporting no new cases of COVID-19 today. The countywide total remains at 243. Health officials say four more COVID-19 patients have recovered, with more than 200 patients being fully recovered. Officials say 39 patients are recovering at home and two patients remain hospitalized in an intensive care unit. The county has also reported no new deaths from the virus, keeping the total number of deaths in the county to one. According to data from the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department, officials have conducted 2,375 tests, 80 of which came back positive. The health department says private labs have tested nearly 4,600 people, 163 of whom had a positive test result. The majority of coronavirus cases remains in Paso Robles with 95 cases. There are 37 cases in Atascadero, 22 in Arroyo Grande, 18 in the city of San Luis Obispo, 17 in Nipomo, 11 in inmates at the California Men’s Colony, nine in Pismo Beach, eight in San Miguel, eight in Templeton, six in Morro Bay and 12 in other cities or towns with less than five positive cases, according to the public health department. These numbers show nearly 62 percent of COVID-19 cases in San Luis Obispo County are in north county. According to a press release from the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department, the countywide shelter-at-home order expired Saturday at midnight. However, the county remains under executive shelter at home order from the California state public health officer until further notice.

A Kentucky pastor, joined by at least 50 other churches, is urging religious leaders across the nation to “step up and roar” for the right to worship amid coronavirus shutdowns. “I believe every day a church is closed, a bit of liberty dies,” Brian Gibson said. “We need people to stand up and roar. There is a time to be quiet, a time to be a lamb, but today is the day of the lion.” Gibson, pastor of His Church, a megachurch with locations in Owensboro, Ky. and Amarillo, Texas “Fox & Friends” today that he found it unreasonable that some businesses could reopen while churches were forced to stay closed. “Restrictions eased up on everyone around us, but we couldn’t do business as normal as the church, he said. “We’re looking across the road at fast-food places handing out French fries. Liquor stores are serving patrons – but the church is the bad guy. It is time for us to stand up for our First Amendment rights,” the pastor continued. We have religious freedom in this nation. We’ll not lay that down on our watch.” Gibson, who has been urging religious leaders to sign an online petition, praised other megachurch pastors who have joined his initiative to reopen church doors responsibly and safely, using guidelines such as reducing occupancy, social distancing, requiring staff to wear masks and gloves, dismissing attendees aisle by aisle and increasing sanitation.` “I really believe momentum is starting right now,” Gibson told host Pete Hegseth. Gibson said his “movement” would be “fasting and praying” for a network of pastors in California who told Fox News they plan to reopen May 31, with or without Gov. Gavin Newsom’s approval, as well as churches in Illinois  Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s restrictions on in-person services. “We have a right to peaceably assemble,” Gibson argued. “We want to be smart, be safe, be caring. We have all sorts of precautions put together… extra sterilization. We’re taking care of everything, but we want to know our religious freedom isn’t going to die with us.”

The raft of litigation concerning church shutdowns has been driven largely by evangelicals, many of whom have said that they do not agree with state regulation of public gatherings throughout the pandemic. Since April, a series of churches have sued state and local governments because of restrictions on gatherings. The first wave of litigation came after many churches were not allowed to celebrate Easter and focused primarily on churches’ desire for drive-in services. The second wave rolled in as April ended when a number of states lengthened their shutdowns through May. The third wave, which does not consist of litigation at all, concerns a series of movements clamoring to reopen churches without government approval. In each wave, the churches and religious leaders pushing back against state orders have been evangelical or Christians otherwise unaffiliated with a traditional denomination. And even before churches began suing, evangelicals were already the most likely to disapprove and to disobey state-issued stay-at-home orders. A survey taken in late March by the Religion News Service found that evangelicals were the most likely to continue with in-person services during the pandemic. In states with no stay-at-home orders, more than 30% of churches still met in the early weeks of the pandemic. In states with complete bans on large gatherings, that number was just as high. At that time, evangelicals were also much more likely to say that churches should disobey orders if congregants believed they were unconstitutional, the survey found. Nearly two months later, public opinion is in much the same place. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center in early May found that evangelicals, more so than all other Christians, say that states are not easing restrictions on public gatherings quickly enough. While on the whole, 68% of Christians said that states were opening too quickly, evangelicals were almost evenly split on the question, with 48% saying that states needed to hurry up. Conversely, the Christian groups who were the wariest of reopening were black Protestants and Hispanic Catholics, with nearly 80% and 70%, respectively, saying so. Incidentally, many people in these communities are also among those at the highest risk for contracting the coronavirus. Evangelicals are also the most likely to say that church services should be allowed without any restrictions and to say that banning all religious services is unconstitutional, according to May polling from the Associated Press and the University of Chicago Divinity School. This opinion, while still a minority voice even among evangelicals who wish to reopen, is a strongly held one, evidenced by the waves of lawsuits. Churches did not sue governments until the weeks surrounding Easter, the holiest day of the year for Christians, celebrated this year on April 12. But as many elected officials, including President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, urged religious people to stay home on Easter, frictions began to develop between states and churches. In the first major incident, which took place in Mississippi, Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons issued an order in the week before Easter, aimed directly at several Baptist churches attempting to hold drive-in services. One of the churches threatened to sue on Holy Thursday. The other actually did sue on Good Friday. Both held services on Easter Sunday, in defiance of the order, which they said violated the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The issue, however, was resolved in the next week when Attorney General William Barr issued a statement of interest supporting the two churches. Barr wrote that churches cannot be singled out, especially when businesses have been treated with relative leniency. Simmons lifted his restrictions on the churches soon after. Barr’s intervention in Mississippi overshadowed a nationwide trend of churches, mostly evangelical, who also sued state governments for disrupting their Easter services. On Good Friday, On Fire Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, asked a federal judge to grant it the ability to hold Easter Sunday services. The judge, Justin Walker, now up for consideration for an appointment to the D.C. Court of Appeals, granted it on Holy Saturday. Other churches were not so fortunate. Because of stay-at-home orders, many churches had to cancel or truncate their Easter services. And in the weeks following, many sued. Three California churches sued Gov. Gavin Newsom on Easter Monday. Later that week, churches in Tennessee, New Mexico, and Kentucky sued their governors. The following week, more churches filed suit, with several more churches in California and one in Virginia claiming their Easter services were disrupted by unlawful orders.

The drama went the other way, too: Days before Easter, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly sued the state legislature for attempting to block an order which would essentially prohibit Easter services. Kelly was able to assert her authority to issue executive orders — but not before several churches were able to win restraining orders, which allowed them to hold services free from restrictions. By the end of April, churches kicked off the second round of lawsuits, in part emboldened by the Justice Department’s second intervention on the issue. Here, officials threw their support behind the Lighthouse Fellowship Church, the evangelical congregation in Virginia which sued Gov. Ralph Northam for prohibiting them from holding an Easter service. The Justice Department’s statement supported in-person church services on the grounds that churches must be treated equally to businesses that have been allowed to remain open during shutdowns. In the second wave of lawsuits, churches made similar arguments. On April 29, an evangelical church in Illinois sued Gov. J.B. Pritzker and vowed to reopen whether the governor allowed them to or not. In early May, two churches in Maine, three churches in Michigan, and 10 churches in Oregon sued their governors, making similar resolutions. And in the past week, that resolution has developed into a movement, led by a coalition of evangelical churches in California that have stated that they will reopen on May 31, regardless of whether or not they have the green light from Newsom. They are preceded by ReOpen Church Sunday, an initiative organized by Mat Staver, a religious liberty attorney and former dean of Liberty University’s law school. Other evangelical churches have already begun to stage their own rebellions, such as Metro Praise International in Illinois, whose pastor Joe Wyrostek told the Washington Examiner that reopening without a lawsuit was his “passive resistance.” By contrast, no major Christian denomination has filed a lawsuit against a state or local government during the shutdown. The Catholic Church, Episcopal Church, and some leaders within the Southern Baptist Convention have even gone so far as to encourage their members to cooperate with governments, and, in some cases, have aligned themselves with government policies on shutdowns.

These photographs were taken in the Quaking Aspen area near Click’s Creek. I hope to get up there this summer to do some more photography.

A close up of a rock

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A pile of snow next to a forest

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©Copywrite MPFitch

Published by mpfitch

I am a retired disabled veteran and am actively involved with a Baptist Church on the Central Coast of CA. I am a photographer who likes to shoot portraits and scenic photographs.

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