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Franklin Graham

Faith leaders urge Congress to give churches immunity from pandemic lawsuits

As churches struggle to reopen, they must consider not only the threat of the coronavirus but also that of potential lawsuits if someone becomes infected. Several prominent faith leaders, including Franklin Graham and Kirk Cameron, have urged Congress to give churches immunity from lawsuits that could come in response to decisions to resume in-person services.

Graham and Cameron joined nearly 300 interfaith leaders in signing a letter sent to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary this week voicing their concern that houses of worship and religious nonprofits could face a potential “wave of lawsuits [that] would force many to cease their operations.

READ: President Trump calls on Governors to allow churches open

The letter proposes that Congress include in its next COVID-19 economic relief package some type of “immunity for religious organizations from negligence suits resulting from their serving the public or reopening in accordance with local orders.”

They’re not asking for anything special, just to be treated with the same protections that have been granted businesses and other entities.

“Such protection could be modeled generally after the COVID-19 laws and orders that limit liability for medical professionals and commercial entities that manufacture and sell protective equipment by establishing a gross negligence or willful misconduct standard,” the letter said. “This simple, common sense solution will provide religious organizations desperately needed protection from simple negligence lawsuits.

Although the letter was signed mostly by Christian leaders, it also was signed by some Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the president of the Coalition for Jewish Values.

“We are each concerned about a new threat to our nation’s faith communities,” the letter said, calling the threat “a swarm of lawsuits blaming houses of worship and religious ministries for any person who attended a religious gathering or received food or shelter from a charity or ministry and subsequently contracted COVID-19.”

The leaders contend that even though the lawsuits should eventually prove meritless considering the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants freedom of religion and freedom of assembly, the cost of legal defense would have “devastating consequences.”

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice

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