- Despite orders against large social gatherings, some churches in places like Florida, Louisiana, and Ohio have continued to host mass services for hundreds of worshipers.
- One Florida church leader said his members were practicing “social distancing, or whatever,” despite live video of them clearly not.
- He also told churchgoers that they were more likely to contract the virus elsewhere, not in church, and has peddled misinformation about the virus.
- Meanwhile, a Louisiana preacher has said the coronavirus is “not a concern” and is “politically motivated.”
17% of Churchgoers Still Attend, Poll Says
While schools and businesses all over the world have closed their doors to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, many churchgoers have continued to attend services in person.
Some houses of worship, from the Vatican to storefront mosques, have switched to virtual gatherings, but according to a Buzzfeed poll conducted last week by three political scientists, 22% of respondents said they had been “encouraged” to attend in-person worship “because of the virus.” The study also found that 17% of respondents were actually still going.
The survey polled 1,038 people from all over the country, who said they attend a house of worship “more often than never.” It’s not exactly known if the 17% of people still attending services are meeting in smaller worship settings that follow the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations, but based on some recent reports, it’s clear that there are still hundreds of worshipers ignoring social distancing guidelines.
Last week, nearly three dozen people who attended a church event at First Assemblies of God Church in Greers Ferry, Arkansas, tested positive for COVID-19. Of the 34 who tested positive, 31 are either church staff or members of the church.
On Friday, a church in Chicago said 43 people reported symptoms related to the virus after a church service on March 15. At least 10 of those people thave tested positive for the virus so far.
Hundreds Gather in Louisiana
While President Donald Trump has recommended against gatherings of more than 10 people, many states have laid out their own specific social distancing rules. Still, some are choosing to deliberately defy them.
Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana is one preacher in particular who has made headlines for hosting mass gatherings. On March 17, he went against Gov. Jon Bel Edwards’ order that banned groups larger than 50 from gathering at one time, including churches.
Spell hosted a Tuesday service for around 300 people, arguing at the time that the virus was “not a concern,” and adding that he believes it is “politically motivated.”
“People are still going to work, still going to the mall. I encountered more people in Target today then I did during my service last night,” he later told CNN. “It’s persecution of the faith for me not to have my worship service and yet I am allowed to go out in public and shop. Why is there one standard for commerce and another for religion?”
He also boasted about gathering a larger crowd of nearly 1,200 the Sunday before, adding that he had 27 busses picking people up. His services have reportedly continued as normal, with Spell even hosting baptisms and laying hands to heal the sick.
Once the media began reporting on Spell’s services, he said several church members were suspended from work after employers feared they would spread the virus. Yet still, this past Sunday over 550 people packed themselves inside the church.
According to the Associated Press, assistant ministers and other churchgoers stood outside the front doors and in the parking lot telling reporters to leave. They said cameras would not be allowed on the property and that they had been told not to talk to the media.
Spell later appeared and made a brief comment in the parking lot, saying they have a right to assemble. He also said the church is not forcing anyone to attend, is not breaking any laws, and will continue to hold services.
Spell has faced some backlash from people in the community, with some even signing a petition calling for him to be arrested and charged with reckless endangerment.
However, Spell isn’t the only one in Louisiana hosting church-related gatherings. On Saturday, police in New Orleans broke up a funeral repast of about 100 people. Police issued a warrant for a 28-year-old man who refused to shut it down after he was asked. The leader of the band that was playing during the gathering was also issued a summons for his participation.
“People who violate the ban are being selfish and “grossly irresponsible,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Sunday afternoon in New Orleans. They “take the time and attention of first responders and make it much more likely that this disease will continue to spread,” he said
Florida and Ohio
In Florida, The River at Tampa Bay Church held a Sunday service live stream, which showed worshipers gathered close together. Still, Rev. Rodney Howard-Browne said attendees were practicing “social distancing, or whatever.”
“We are not a nonessential service,” Howard-Browne said during the service. “You’re probably going to get infected at some other place, not here.”
He also condemned scientific reports about the virus and peddled the debunked idea that this pandemic was of less concern than the flu.
The church said in a statement on its web site that it felt it was important to remain open for people in need of comfort, saying it is sanitizing and cleaning all surfaces.
“In a time of national crisis, we expect certain institutions to be open and certain people to be on duty. We expect hospitals to have their doors open 24/7 to receive and treat patients. We expect our police and firefighters to be ready and available to rescue and to help and to keep the peace. The Church is another one of those essential services. It is a place where people turn for help and for comfort in a climate of fear and uncertainty,” the church said in the statement.
Meanwhile, Solid Rock Church in Lebanon, Ohio also held services Sunday in defiance of a letter from the local health department urging it not to meet after community complaints, according to a local news report. The church, in a statement, cited its First Amendment right to religious assembly.
Religious gatherings were explicitly exempted by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s order against gatherings of more than 10 people. However, DeWine also tweeted a plea to religious leaders last week saying, “We did not order religious organizations to close, but my message to EVERYONE is that this is serious. When you are coming together, whether in a church or wherever – this is dangerous.”
But Americans aren’t the only ones continuing to attend in-person worship services. Sunday services were held at some of Russia’s largest religious sites after Orthodox church leaders said they were an expression of religious freedom.
According to the Guardian, dozens of parishioners, many of them elderly, crowded into Kazan Cathedral in St Petersburg to receive communion. However, later in the day, the church’s leader, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, called on people to refrain from visiting churches.
In Romania and Georgia, two countries with strongly Orthodox Christian populations, some priests have insisted on continuing to use a shared spoon for the communion ritual.
Last Sunday, the day after Romania had been put into a strict lockdown, footage emerged from the city of Cluj of priests using a shared spoon. In Georgia, while the church has told people not to spend long periods of time in churches and not to come if sick, it has rejected calls to abandon the reusing of spoons. Instead, it claimed that as communion is a holy ceremony it is not possible to get ill during it.
Kathy Griffin, Ethan Klein, More Suspended From Twitter Over Elon Musk Impersonations
Many have pretended to be Musk in an attempt to highlight the potential issues paid-for verifications could cause on the platform.
Musk Takes on Impersonations
Comedian Kathy Griffin and internet personality Ethan Klein are among the many Twitter users that have been permanently suspended for impersonating the platform’s new CEO, Elon Musk.
Impersonation has long been against Twitter’s rules, but on Sunday, the billionaire took the policy a step further by announcing that “any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended.”
“Previously, we issued a warning before suspension, but now that we are rolling out widespread verification, there will be no warning,” Musk explained. “This will be clearly identified as a condition for signing up to Twitter Blue.”
Musk also said that any user who changes their name will temporarily lose their verification check mark.
The announcement came as many verified users began mocking Musk by changing their name and photo to match his, then tweeting jokes that were either absurd or out of character for the business mogul. Many did this to protest Musk’s plan to charge an $8 monthly subscription fee that would allow any Twitter user to become verified.
Klein was one of many who changed his name to “Elon Musk” and made a photo of the CEO his profile image. The podcast host sent out several jokes, including one referencing the increased use of the N-word on the platform since Musk’s takeover, and another referencing Jeffrey Epstein.
“Even though Jeffrey Epstein committed horrible crimes, I do still miss him on nights like this for his warmth and camaraderie. Rest In Peace old Friend,” he wrote.
His account was quickly banned, but Klein defended himself on TikTok, arguing that both his cover photo and bio labeled his account as “parody” and therefore should be acceptable under Musk’s guidelines.
“What more do you want from me?” he asked. “Comedy is dead. And Elon Musk dug the grave.”
Protests of Musk’s Twitter Control
For her part, Griffin likewise tweeted while masquerading as Musk, writing that after “spirited discussion with the females in my life, I’ve decided that voting blue for their choice is only right.”
Musk joked that she was actually “suspended for impersonating a comedian” and added that she can have her account back if she pays for the $8 subscription. Griffin, however, found another way around the ban.
The comedian logged into her late mother’s Twitter account and began using the hashtag #FreeKathy while calling out Musk.
“Mad Men” actor Rich Sommer and podcaster Griffin Newman have also had their accounts suspended for tweeting as Musk. Other celebrities, including TV producer Shonda Rhimes, musician Sara Bareilles, and model Gigi Hadid have protested Musk’s Twitter reign by leaving the platform altogether.
“For a long time, but especially with its new leadership, it’s becoming more and more of a cesspool of hate & bigotry, and it’s not a place I want to be a part of,” Hadid wrote on Instagram over the weekend.
AOC Says Twitter Notifications “Conveniently” Disabled After Criticizing Musk
“What’s good? Doesn’t seem very free speechy to me,” she tweeted at the new CEO.
AOC Vs. Elon Musk
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said several of her Twitter features are “conveniently not working” after feuding with the platform’s new owner, billionaire Elon Musk.
Ocasio-Cortez has never been shy about her views on Musk. After he officially took charge of Twitter last week, the congresswoman began criticizing his new proposals for the social networking site, specifically his plan to charge an $8 subscription fee for verification.
“Lmao at a billionaire earnestly trying to sell people on the idea that ‘free speech’ is actually a $8/mo subscription plan,” she wrote on Tuesday.
“Your feedback is appreciated, now pay $8,” Musk replied the following day.
Around an hour later, the business mogul sent another tweet appearing to call Ocasio-Cortez out for selling $58 sweatshirts.
“Proud of this and always will be,” she shot back. “My workers are union, make a living wage, have full healthcare, and aren’t subject to racist treatment in their workplaces. Items are made in USA. Team AOC honors and respects working people. You should try it sometime instead of union-busting.”
In a follow-up tweet, she noted that proceeds go to community organizing programs, including one that tutors students who are falling behind because of COVID-19.
AOC’s Mentions Not Working
On Wednesday evening, just hours after her back-and-forth with Musk, Ocasio-Cortez told her followers that her “Twitter mentions/notifications conveniently aren’t working tonight.”
“I was informed via text that I seem to have gotten under a certain billionaire’s skin,” she added. “Just a reminder that money will never [buy] your way out of insecurity, folks.”
The issue seemingly continued into Thursday morning when the Democrat tweeted a screenshot of her notifications page, which loaded no results.
“Why should people pay $8 just for their app to get bricked when they say something you don’t like?” she tweeted at Musk. “This is what my app has looked like ever since my tweet upset you yesterday. What’s good? Doesn’t seem very free speechy to me.”
Musk has repeatedly claimed that one of his primary motives to buy Twitter was to protect free speech. Once taking the reigns as CEO, though, he did say he would start a content moderation council and make decisions jointly with them.
South Carolina County Votes Against Moving LGBTQ+ Friendly Books Away from Children’s Section
Efforts to limit LGBTQ+ content in libraries first began over the summer.
Attempts to Restrict LGBTQ+ Displays
The county council in Greenville County, South Carolina this week voted against discussing a resolution that would move all books “promoting sexuality” to the adult section.
This resolution is the culmination of months of turmoil in Greenville County. In June, libraries in the county removed Pride displays at the direction of library officials. Then in September, the county’s Republican Party executive board passed a resolution to call on the County Council to restrict access to books with LGBTQ+ themes and characters.
The resolution was proposed by Joe Dill, an outgoing council member, as well as a member of the county’s Republican Party executive board. It proposed the council “officially order that no books or content, including digital copies or online accessible materials, promoting sexuality be allowed in the Children’s Sections of our public libraries.”
However, the resolution required the council to suspend its regular rules in order to discuss it as it was not submitted to the council via committee. The final vote was 9 to 3 against the suspension of the rules and effectively killed the resolution.
Those that voted against it viewed the resolution as an overreach.
“We just do not believe that’s our job to get involved in the library’s business,” Council member Ennis Fett said to a local news outlet. “We appoint a board. We can not set a precedent of micromanaging the library board, because if we do that, then, we will be micromanaging all boards and commissions that we appoint.”
Although the council decided not to get involved, the library still has the final decision to make regarding these books. Their meeting to discuss the matter is scheduled for December 5.