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April 29, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – A group notorious for opposing benign intersections of faith and government is taking issue with the designation of clergy as “essential workers” to be taken into consideration when localities craft COVID-19 mandates, objecting that organized religion is essentially worthless to the United States.

A March 28 memo by Christopher Krebs, director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), lists examples of “essential critical infrastructure workforce” to help state and local governments “protect their communities” from COVID-19 while “ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security.”

The list, which is purely advisory and carries no legal force, identifies workers whose services “are typically essential to continued critical infrastructure viability, including staffing operations centers, maintaining and repairing critical infrastructure, operating call centers, working construction, and performing operational functions, among others. It also includes workers who support crucial supply chains and enable functions for critical infrastructure.”

“Clergy for essential support” are listed among the examples in the subcategory “Other Community – or Government-Based Operations and Essential Functions.” On April 7, Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins revealed that the addition was made as a result of FRC meetings with the Trump administration.

The development did not sit well with the so-called Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which issued a statement declaring that “clergy are not, in any sense, essential,” and that the “collapse of the clergy or churches would in no genuine way impair this country.” 

“Hospitals will function just fine without chaplains, who are often intrusive toward nonbelieving patients,” FFRF continued. “More seriously, it points out that without clergy roaming the halls, there will be fewer people likely to spread the virus and more personal protective equipment for medical professionals.”

Perkins disagrees, noting the longstanding roles of priests in hospitals and chaplains in the armed forces, who bring comfort and strength to patients, doctors, and nurses in some of the most demanding of essential functions.

“One of the big challenges in chaplaincy under non-pandemic circumstances is how do we get to the neediest patients first?” he quoted Rev. David Fleenor of New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital as saying. The coronavirus crisis has hit New York harder than any other state.

Previous FFRF targets have included crosses and nativity scenes at local courthouses, a judge who gave a Bible to a repentant convict, prayer at school board meetings, elementary school Bible clubs, and gubernatorial “day of prayer” proclamations.

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