A 'religious liberty' campaign we don't want, and a Israel Folau update
Here’s a religious liberty campaign we don’t want: a church in the US state of Mississippi has run a lawsuit against their local police force. Temple Baptist Church in the small town of Greenville took court action after after the cops raided their “drive in church”. Turned out that the church was probably in the right legally – and the federal Justice Department took their side arguing that if restaurants are open in that state, churches should be too.
There’s been several cases of churches opposing Covid 19 restrictions in the States. Perhaps the saddest is the case of Bishop Gerald Glenn, the founder and pastor of New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Chesterfield, Virginia. He died from a Coronavirus infection after preaching that ‘“I firmly believe that God is larger than this dreaded virus,” at a physical gathered service at his church on March 22. Social distancing rules recommending against large gatherings had been issued by the CDC a week earlier.
“The time has come for gun-toting, Bible-clinging patriots to rise up with a mighty voice and declare that this great American experiment is worth saving”, Fox broadcaster Todd Starnes writes urging the “re-opening of America” on a Salem media site. (Salem runs a large Christian talk radio network in the US, heard on 2700 stations)
Pastors turn up in many of the still-small outlier groups rebelling against US coronavirus laws. But they are outliers, and very fringe. Conservative churches even very conservative churches are observing the coronavirus rules.
Eternity does not know of any church in Australia flouting the rules. No church has made a loud public protest – but we are aware of one small Pentecostal church writing a letter of protest to the Prime minister. But for Australian Christians in general this has been a Romans 13 moment ( perhaps the most famous part of Scripture promoting subjection to the “governing authorities”).
There’s been a win for Israel Folau in the NSW Anti Discrimination Board
Coronavirus has seen churches rise to the occasion. Bible study groups are meeting as regularly as before. Pastors report that there are more people watching them – including the unbelieving members of a household where there might be only one church goer. There’s been a run for studio quality microphones, and cameras. Groups of Christians (and others too) are caring for their neighbours.
Religious liberty as a political issue is taking a rest. In an interview Senator Eric Abetz – a strong defender of relious freedom suggested that the religious discrimination Bill is in abeyance until 2021. He was not speaking officially, but his is a well-educated position.
There’s been a win for Israel Folau in the NSW Anti Discrimination Board (ADB) – with the complaint by a high profile gay campaigner Garry Burns being dismissed. As reported by AAP and the Sydney Star Observer President of the ADB Annabelle Bennett wrote to Burns this week “declining” the complaint because it was vexatious and “a flagrant abuse of process such that no further actions should be taken”.
The reports add that Bennett found Mr Burns had not pursued the complaint under the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act “in order to avail himself of the processes afforded under the ADA but for a collateral purpose, as a means to pressure the respondent to settle with him”. The president wrote that the inference was that the settlement sought by Mr Burns was “directed to the payment of money”.
Burns responded by requesting his complaint be referred to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. However the Star Observer carries a comment by Burns that this could take some time owing to Covid-19.
It emerged this week that Folau’s settlement with Rugby Australia was being paid off in instalments. Without a media deal Rugby is making painful budget cuts. And a deal to cur payments to current players is currently being negotiated. Short of Rugby Australia becoming insolvent, Folau’ will be better off than his former teammates.