Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced legislation on Tuesday that would render state and local governments ineligible for federal coronavirus relief funds if the attorney general deems they are discriminating against religious individuals or institutions.
According to the text of the proposed bill, the Safeguarding Americans from Coronavirus and Religious Exercise Discrimination (SACRED) Act endeavors “to ensure that a State or local jurisdiction is ineligible to receive or use funds allocated, appropriated, or authorized to address COVID-19 if that State or jurisdiction discriminates against religious individuals or religious institutions, and for other purposes.”
The bill goes on to stipulate that a state or local government is ineligible if it:
(1) enforces, or announces the intent to enforce, any law, regulation, policy, order, proclamation, or decree related to COVID-19 that discriminates against religious individuals or religious institutions; or (2) provides, or shows an intention to provide, covered funds to a separate State or local jurisdiction that is ineligible to receive or use those funds because the State or local jurisdiction has committed a violation described in paragraph (1).
Attorney General Bill Barr, who has repeatedly expressed his belief that religious freedom is foundational to American liberty, is to determine which governments are guilty of discrimination, the bill goes on to say.
Cruz’s bill comes as religious people throughout the country have increasingly resisted lingering coronavirus lockdown mandates that forbid large assembly both in houses of worship and other establishments.
Cruz told The Daily Caller News Foundation, “Throughout this pandemic we’ve seen numerous examples of state and local governments instituting discriminatory regulations that unfairly target people of faith and which restrict houses of worship from operating while exempting secular gatherings and operations from the same rules.”
“As Congress continues to provide relief funds to combat the impact of COVID-19, it is crucial that we protect the First Amendment right of religious liberty from discrimination,” Cruz continued. “That’s why I’ve introduced the SACRED Act. By blocking funds from governments that discriminate against religious organizations, we can fairly protect religious liberty and the rights of those who seek to gather together safely for worship.”
In April, Cruz sent a letter to Barr urging the Justice Department to remain vigilant against instances of potential religious discrimination in New York City, especially instances of anti-Semitism. After Mayor Bill de Blasio participated in dispersing a Hasidic funeral in Brooklyn, he stoked backlash when he singled out the Jewish community for rebuke, tweeting, “My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed.” Cruz wrote to Barr that singling out any religion like that “is dangerous in and of itself. But it is especially dangerous to single out the Jewish community in a city that is experiencing a substantial rise in violent anti-Semitism.”
When protests broke out nationwide and riots roiled New York City in June, de Blasio claimed such demonstrations were different than the religious gatherings that had been shut down. “When you see a nation, an entire nation, simultaneously grappling with an extraordinary crisis seeded in 400 years of American racism,” he said during press conference. “I’m sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services.”
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