FRC Blog

Pennsylvania Governor Exploits Coronavirus Crisis to Push Telemedicine Abortions

by Samuel Lillemo

April 2, 2020

On Saturday, March 28, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) announced a massive expansion of telemedicine in response to the coronavirus. By not explicitly excluding chemical abortions in the announcement, he is attempting to hijack this legitimate coronavirus telemedicine response in order to strip away safety-nets around chemical abortions that continue to cause the deaths of pregnant women. Telemedicine expands civilians’ access to timely health care in crisis situations, but it should never be used for non-emergency procedures that can potentially put a patient’s life at risk without a doctor present.

In the midst of a national reckoning with the coronavirus outbreak, Governor Wolf, a former Planned Parenthood volunteer, is trying to capitalize on the emergency situation to promote the use of chemical abortions through manipulating an upcoming telemedicine bill. He has vowed to veto SB 857, a bill to expand the use of telemedicine as a response to the coronavirus, unless language requiring a doctor to administer the chemical abortion pill in person is removed.

Politicians like Governor Wolf argue it’s ethically responsible to give these chemical abortion pills to women without the supervision of a trained physician and in the middle of a global pandemic already stretching hospital resources. What’s the harm in allowing women in remote areas or without access to a trained physician to take the abortion pill on their own?

Few legal drugs wreak havoc on the human body like the chemical abortion pill. If a doctor doesn’t thoroughly examine the pregnant woman seeking the abortion pill for complicating conditions, the patient is at an incredible risk of the extreme bleeding that has become the pill’s life-threatening signature. One condition of special concern is ectopic pregnancy.

Statistically speaking, two mothers out of every 100 women who become pregnant in North America will have an ectopic pregnancy, meaning the baby develops not in the vaginal canal where it’s supposed to, but in one of the fallopian tubes. Considered one of the chief causes of maternal mortality in the first trimester, ectopic pregnancy becomes exponentially more lethal for the mother when paired with the chemical abortion pill taken at home, because it is one of the conditions that must be screened for by a trained physician.

The FDA has also released a report documenting adverse results from the use of the more potent drug in the abortion pill regimen Mifeprex’s chemical cocktail, Mifepristone. The report estimates that 3.7 million women in the United States used the abortion pill between September 28, 2000, and December 31, 2018. Over that 18-year span, 1,042 women were hospitalized by the drug, 599 bled so extensively that blood transfusions were required to save their lives, 412 developed infections (69 of which were considered severe), and 12 women died from conditions likely induced by the chemical abortion.

The FDA’s own report shows that Mifeprex endangers women’s lives even with available emergency medical care. Complications arising from this pill, like internal hemorrhaging and extreme bleeding, require intensive blood transfusions and professional medical care to overcome, and despite modern medical advances, women continue to die from it.

As American hospitals are quickly becoming overwhelmed, this drug becomes exponentially more dangerous by leaving women at the mercy of life-threatening complications that their health care system may not be able to intercept. With COVID-19 response taking top priority among medical professionals, government leaders have an ethical obligation to protect their constituents from additional medical harm, especially vulnerable pregnant women, during a time of crisis.

Samuel Lillemo is a Policy/Government Affairs intern at Family Research Council.

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The Rich History of American Prayer in Times of Calamity

by Zachary Rogers

April 2, 2020

O God, merciful and compassionate, who art ever ready to hear the prayers of those who put their trust in thee; Graciously hearken to us who call upon thee, and grant us thy help in this our need; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” - A Prayer in Time of Calamity

The United States faces a rapidly developing coronavirus crisis that is testing our form of government, the social and health infrastructure we have built, and the solidarity of individuals at the local level. It is in times such as these that the true mettle and spirit of a people is revealed. It is a time for prayer. Thankfully, the United States has a long history of appealing to Heaven in times of crisis, calamity, and now COVID-19.

President Trump recognized this and the necessity of our times. Therefore, on March 13th he tweeted:

It is my great honor to declare Sunday, March 15th as a National Day of Prayer. We are a Country that, throughout our history, has looked to God for protection and strength in times like these…

This action is not an aberration in U.S. history but a reflection of the blessings of God upon America, which many previous presidents have done. The prominent influence of prayer is clear throughout U.S. history.

On 16 March, 1776, the Continental Congress issued a fast proclamation. Mr. William Livingston brought forward a resolution for a fast, asserting that in times of impending calamity men must recognize the sovereignty of God, confess their sins, and request His blessing. Colonials were called to a day of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer.” Congress agreed to this resolution.

George Washington also recognized the role of Providence in the birth of the nation, as well as the important role of religion and morality in American life. During the American War of Independence, when he served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, he concurred with the call of Congress for another day of prayer and fasting. To encourage and allow his men to do so, he forbade all unnecessary labor and recreation.

This understanding of God and the universe can clearly be seen in the first National Thanksgiving Proclamation when Washington in his duties as president recognized Thursday, November 26, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. His proclamation in part reads:

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord.

Here, we see a call to all Americans, commissioning them to eagerly ask the Lord to enable everyone, civil servant or citizen, to perform our duties to each other, to our states, and to the nation. We can do no more. We should do no less.

One of the best examples of a national day of prayer in the history of the nation came from President Lincoln, who signed “A Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day” on March 30, 1863. This proclamation recognized the sovereignty of God, the necessity of repentance, and the need to ask for forgiveness.

In 1952 President Harry S. Truman signed into law a joint resolution of Congress establishing an annual day of prayer for the “people to turn to God in prayer and meditation.”

We should remember that God governs in the affairs of men, from the time of the Israelites, when He answered many prayers for the tribes of Israel, to the American Revolution when our Forefathers fought the mightiest empire known to man and, despite losing many battles, won the war. When we thank God, we should also thank Him for a free country in which we can have a day of prayer. It is important to remember the constitutional point that a National Day of Prayer neither establishes a state religion nor impedes religious practice.

America has a strong Judeo-Christian heritage, and this is reflected in our history of appealing to God in times of strife and calamity. Let us do so now while not neglecting to do all the good we can. The time is now and it is our duty to do so. Here is “A Prayer for Congress”:

Most gracious God, we humbly beseech thee, as for the people of these United States in general, so especially for their Senate and Representatives in Congress assembled; that thou wouldest be pleased to direct and prosper all their consultations, to the advancement of thy glory, the good of thy Church, the safety, honour, and welfare of they people; that all things may be so ordered and settled by their endeavours, upon the best and surest foundations, that peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety, may be established among us for all generations. These and all other necessaries, for them, for us, and thy whole Church, we humbly beg in the Name and mediation of Jesus Christ, our most blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Zachary Rogers is a graduate of Hillsdale College and is a former intern of FRC, the Kirby Center, and the Claremont Institute. He is currently working in education in Northern Virginia.

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How Federal Coronavirus Legislation Will Impact Your Family (Part 3)

by Connor Semelsberger

April 1, 2020

Read Part 1 and Part 2

Despite many speedbumps, and several self-inflicted roadblocks—including House Democrat attempts to pass their ideological wish list—members of Congress from both sides of the aisle eventually came together to pass the most recent coronavirus relief bill. On Friday, March 27, President Donald Trump signed into law H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which is the third phase of coronavirus response legislation. This $2 trillion law is the largest relief package ever passed by Congress, demonstrating the powerful forces unleashed by the coronavirus and drastic congressional response—including from some typically fiscally conservative members. Indeed, we are facing a public health and economic emergency of the likes most of us have never seen. Here is a look at how this legislation will impact you and your family.

Direct Payments

The signature policy in the CARES Act, first proposed by the Trump administration, is a tax rebate that will be sent directly to families to help cover essential costs during this crisis. As a result of this bill, all Americans with an annual income of $75,000 or less will receive a direct payment of $1,200. For married couples with an income of $150,000 or less, this payment will double to $2,400. Families with dependent children will also receive an additional $500 per child. This policy was also adapted from a previous draft, to provide the full $1,200 rebate to those with little or no income. If you are someone who makes over the $75,000 threshold, you will still be eligible for a partial rebate. This rebate will be reduced by $5 for every $100 over the cap and will be completely phased out at incomes of $99,000 and above.

The great news is, if you have filed a previous tax return, there is no action required to receive the rebate. For Americans who have already filed their 2019 tax returns, the IRS will rely on those returns to determine eligibility. If you have not filed for 2019, they will use 2018 returns. Even though the president signed the bill on Friday, the earliest families can expect to see these rebates is in three or four weeks, according to some estimates. The rebate will be sent via direct deposit if the IRS has that information from a tax return. If the IRS does not have direct deposit information, it will mail a physical check, which may take a few weeks longer to arrive.

Sending tax rebates directly to Americans is not something unique to the current situation. During the 2008 recession, President George W. Bush issued tax rebates of $600 for individuals and $1,200 for married couples to help stimulate the economy. The tax rebates in the CARES Act are not only higher than in 2008 but will be sent out much sooner due to the IRS’s ability to work through logistics faster. This policy cements and incentivizes family structure, as there is no penalty on married couples, giving them double the individual amounts. It also functions as an additional child tax credit, giving more money for each child a family has. For the average family of four, this tax rebate will equate to a $3,400 check providing immediate financial help.

For those with a greater financial strain, who may need to draw from their retirement funds, there is additional help. As done in previous emergencies, if someone withdraws no more than $100,000 from their retirement account for coronavirus-related reasons, the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty is waived. The taxes that would otherwise be collected on that withdrawal can be paid out over the next three years.

Unemployment Insurance

In addition to the rebate checks, the CARES Act provides $250 billion to expand unemployment insurance to help those who are without work because of the coronavirus outbreak. This bill creates a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Program that will run through the end of the year. This program will provide extended financial assistance, enabling those without work to make monthly payments for food, rent, and other necessities. The program provides unemployment benefits for those who do not usually qualify, including religious workers, the self-employed, independent contractors, and those with limited work history. It also covers the first week of lost wages in states that do not cover the first week a person is unemployed and provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment for those who remain unemployed beyond the weeks provided by the state.

Another valuable expansion is that all recipients of unemployment insurance will get an additional $600 a week beginning in April and lasting for the next four months. This addition was not without controversy, as several Senate Republicans objected to this addition because of the potential for a perverse incentive for those who might make more on unemployment insurance than they would by working. Ultimately, given the negotiating dynamics and tight timeline, this provision was not fixed. Looking to pass this bill quickly, the Trump administration was willing to accept this provision, and the bill passed the Senate with unanimous support.

To view your state’s unemployment policy and apply for unemployment insurance, go to this helpful database provided by the Department of Labor.

Housing Assurance

In a public health crisis that requires families to remain quarantined in their homes, it is critical that current housing situations remain secure. For families who own a home and make mortgage payments, the CARES Act prohibits foreclosures on any federally-backed mortgages for 60 days. It allows borrowers affected by the coronavirus to push off any missed payments to the end of their mortgage with no added penalties or interest. To help families who make rent payments, it halts evictions for those renting from properties with federally-backed mortgages for 120 days. The Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has provided guidance for how homeowners and renters can respond to financial hardships.

Dr. Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, will coordinate these federal housing policies. He has been a vocal leader throughout the coronavirus outbreak, promoting faith and families. On March 20, Secretary Carson joined President Trump and Vice President Pence on an FRC conference call to pray with 800 pastors. On the call, Secretary Carson reminded the pastors that despite the uncertainty facing our country, God’s hand is guiding us.

Education Policies

The coronavirus outbreak has affected education across the country in many ways. Many schools have been directed to close their doors, replacing in-person classes with at home and online learning. Because of these changing dynamics, the CARES Act waives the federal testing requirements that students take in a typical school year. It also provides additional funding for K-12 schools to adapt to at home-learning and gives increased flexibility for how grants can be used for technology and other actions needed to adapt to the coronavirus situation. Private schools can also access these additional funds.

Many parents today also face the challenge of balancing student loan payments with other essential payments like rent and food expenses. To ease the financial burden of making student loan payments, the CARES Act suspends federal student loan payments for the next six months, and no interest will accrue on federal loans during these six months. The Department of Education has more information on which federal loans qualify and how these policies will be implemented.

The coronavirus’s impact on the public health and the economic stability of or country is something not seen for nearly a century. President Donald Trump and his Coronavirus Task Force have taken strong actions to slow the spread of the virus and protect the health of many. However, the crisis has resulted in unintended financial burdens on many families across the country. Members of Congress and the Trump administration worked together to negotiate a strong economic response that truly puts families first—a welcome sight in the typically-rancorous partisan political environment on Capitol Hill. The FRC team continues to engage members of Congress and the administration to ensure that faith, family, and freedom will remain protected even as our country responds to the coronavirus.

For more on how the coronavirus relief legislation specifically benefits churches and nonprofits, see our blog here.

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Off-Label Use of Drugs Are Fine for Gender Transitions, but Not for Coronavirus, Say Liberals

by Peter Sprigg

March 31, 2020

Liberals and the media have been criticizing President Trump for touting the possibility of using some anti-malarial drugs to fight the coronavirus. Chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, or a “drug cocktail” combining one of those with the antibiotic azithromycin have been proposed as possible drugs to prevent and/or treat the coronavirus, and what the Washington Post referred to as “tantalizing early results” of research showed that they might have promise.  

However, although these drugs have been around and used safely against malaria for decades, they have not yet been tested and proven safe and effective for use against the coronavirus. This has led to shock and outrage on the part of some. The Post’s headline read, “Trump keeps touting an unproven coronavirus treatment,” and their article reported:

The effort has raised concerns among health experts about safety risks — including the danger of fatal heart arrhythmia and vision loss associated with the drugs — and of raising false hopes in the American public.

In fact, the Post was alarmed enough to print an editorial on the subject as well, explaining:

Widespread testing for drug safety and efficacy is essential … Normally in the United States, a set of controlled clinical trials would be required before a drug is approved by the Food and Drug Administration . . .

A Bloomberg headline read, “Trump Pushes an Unproven Coronavirus Drug,” and the article opens with this:

A tiny trial of a malaria drug may or may not have helped several patients in France fight off their coronavirus infections. The FDA has said it needs more study. Some expert doctors are skeptical. President Donald Trump is all for it.

Slate downplayed the drugs’ potential, saying, “Trump cited a report in a scientific journal that only studied 20 patients and was not a controlled clinical trial.” And the left-wing magazine Mother Jones headlined, “Trump Keeps Promoting Unproven Drugs: The cocktail carries significant risks and may not fight the coronavirus.”

It is true that the “off-label” use of a drug means that it has not been scientifically proven to be safe and effective for that particular condition. Such use is not illegal, however—and is fairly common. It has been estimated that one in five prescriptions written in America is for an off-label use.

And liberals have been far more enthusiastic about “off-label” use of some drugs—if they support one of their ideological pet projects.

The Off-Label Use of Drugs for Gender Transition

Take gender transition medical procedures, for example. Pre-teens who experience “gender dysphoria” (distress regarding their biological sex) are increasingly being treated with a regimen featuring puberty-blocking drugs (such as Lupron), followed by cross-sex hormones (testosterone or estrogen) followed by gender reassignment surgery.

These interventions are touted with terms like “evidence-based” and “standard of care”—so it might surprise some people (including the patients subjected to them) that all of these are “off-label” uses of such drugs. Puberty blockers, for example, are intended (in children) to treat a medical condition called “central precocious puberty,” in which the child begins to show the biological signs of puberty prematurely, at an age far younger than would normally be expected. The drugs stop the physical progression of puberty until they are removed at a more normal age for such development. The effect of their use to stop normal puberty, followed by their withdrawal at an older age or when beginning to take cross-sex hormones, has not been well-studied.

Sex hormones like estrogen are officially used to treat symptoms of menopause or certain cancers. However, an article in the Journal of Sexual Medicine reported, “Long-term effects and side effects of cross-sex hormone treatment in transsexual persons are not well known.”

Gender reassignment surgery (while not subject to the same testing as medications) has also not been proven safe and effective. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2016 found that “there is not enough high quality evidence to determine whether gender reassignment surgery improves health outcomes,” in part because patients in the best studies “did not demonstrate clinically significant changes” after surgery.

Indeed, if you look closely, advocates of gender transition medical procedures do not even try to deny this. Fenway Health, which serves the LGBT community in Boston, writes that “no medications or other treatments are currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the purposes of gender alteration and affirmation.” A 2018 article in the journal Transgender Health reiterated that “there are no medications or other treatments that are FDA-approved for the purpose of gender affirmation.” And the American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health reported that “steroidal hormones,” “GnRH analogs” (puberty blockers) and “antiandrogens” are all used “off-label” for “gender re-affirming therapy”—because their use “lacks scientific evidence.”

Trusting Ideology Over Science

The “off-label” use of a drug—any drug—may sometimes be justified, but should always be pursued with caution. However, there is one big difference between the drugs President Trump has shown enthusiasm for and the drugs that social liberals so eagerly tout. The coronavirus causes very real physical disease, which is killing more and more Americans every day. Expediting the experimental “off-label” use of malaria drugs may be justified because of the massive scope of the public health problem we face.

The off-label use of drugs for “gender transition” is quite different. Not only is there no comparable public health crisis—there is not even a physical illness that is being treated. Neither puberty nor being biologically male or female is a “disease.”

Liberals should be careful showing self-righteousness about putting “our trust in the scientists.” Their hypocrisy is showing when it comes to the transgender movement.

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Prayer Point #6: Pray for Honest Reporting

by David Closson

March 31, 2020

The world is reeling from the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19). For many, our entire way of life has been upended by a novel virus that health experts say presents a particular risk to our elderly and immunocompromised friends and neighbors.

As Christians, we know that one of our greatest spiritual weapons is prayer (Eph. 6:18). But what exactly should Christians pray about amidst these trying times? FRC’s President, Tony Perkins, recently released nine prayer points to guide us in prayer. Each point provides a specific way for Christians to pray during the ongoing crisis.

For most Americans, life looks very different today than it did two weeks ago. As the coronavirus has spread, tens of millions are now working from home, watching online worship services, and following CDC social distancing guidelines. According to a recent Fox News poll, 92 percent of Americans are now concerned about the spread of the coronavirus. This concern is reflected by the millions who watch President Trump’s daily press briefings. In fact, 57 percent of Americans report an increase in their television intake. Given this heightened media consumption, honest reporting is more crucial than ever. Thus, Christians should pray for the members of the media who are reporting on the coronavirus. Here are a few specific ways to pray.

First, pray that reporters and journalists would accurately report updates about the virus. Pray that they would not seek to peddle conspiracy theories or politicize the threat. This year is an election year, and unfortunately, many in the media see everything, including the coronavirus, through a partisan political lens. In some instances, conservative media personalities have been too quick to dismiss missteps from Republican leaders, while liberal reporters have been too quick to criticize President Trump and his team. We must pray that everyone in the media—conservative, mainstream, and liberal—would put aside their political agendas and commit themselves to reporting the facts relevant to public health and safety.

Second, pray for wisdom in reporting. Admittedly, there is a lot of information to track related to the coronavirus. In addition to the president’s daily press conferences, governors and mayors are also giving daily remarks about how their respective states and cities are combatting the spread of the virus and protecting their people. Each day, the World Health Organization, CDC, and other governmental agencies put out information. There is a deluge of virus-related information released each day, and some of it is more accurate and helpful than others. Pray that news organizations and reporters would have the wisdom to know what they ought to report.  

Third, pray that reporters would employ an appropriate tone when conveying the latest news. We are living in uncertain times, and many people are anxious and fearful. Of course, certain updates and stories require a more impassioned tone. However, the public is not well-served when media personalities sensationalize aspects of certain stories to boost ratings or make a political statement. Pray that reporters, journalists, and producers would maintain a measured, thoughtful, and analytical approach as they convey the latest news to the public. Pray that no one would stoke fear where it is unwarranted.

And fourth, pray for the health of those in the media. Many reporters must leave their homes and venture into public spaces to report updates or cover the latest press conference. Others who work in media such as producers, audio engineers, camera operators, writers, make-up artists, and others must still come into work. Pray that none of these people come into contact with or spread the virus. Finally, pray for the families and loved ones of those working in media; pray for their health and safety as well.

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Women’s History Month: Deborah and Jael - No Man’s Victory

by Laura Grossberndt

March 30, 2020

March is Women’s History Month (WHM), so it’s a great opportunity to commemorate the contributions of women to American history. The most influential book in the United States—even the world—is the Bible; it not only shapes the way we Christians live, it also helped set the foundations for the way our nation is governed. Thus, women featured in the Bible, despite never having lived in America, have contributed greatly to the spiritual heritage of our nation. Periodically throughout the month, we will be sharing their inspiring stories.

Be sure to also read our previous Women’s History Month posts on Shiphrah and PuahEsther, and Jehosheba.

Time and time again, throughout the Old and New Testaments, God chose unlikely individuals (by worldly standards) to join Him in completing His sovereign plans and purposes. As the apostle Paul explained to the church in Corinth:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)

In the Old Testament, most of the celebrated political and military leaders were men. But not all these men were natural leaders by worldly standards. (Consider Moses, who had a speech impediment, or David, who was a shepherd.) Nor does it mean that God exclusively worked through men to do His sovereign will. For one example, in the book of Judges, God used two women to defeat an enemy that had left even the bravest men of Israel cowering in their homes for over two decades. These women were named Deborah and Jael.

Deborah was an Israelite, a prophet, and a judge. She was married to a man named Lappidoth and may have belonged to the tribe of Ephraim, either by birth, marriage, or both. She lived “between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim” (Judg. 4:5). In Judges 5, Deborah describes herself as “a mother in Israel” (v.7). Biblical scholars are not sure if she was literally the mother of natural children or if she was speaking figuratively of her position as a judge. Nevertheless, this description shows us that Deborah embraced the role of a mother figure, biological children or not.

Deborah is one of only five women the Old Testament refers to as prophets. The other four are Miriam (Exod. 15:20), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chron. 34:22), Noadiah (Neh. 6:14), and “the prophetess” (Isa. 8:3). In addition to being a prophet, Deborah was also a judge—a rare combination. Judges were leaders that God raised up to lead Israel after they entered the Promised Land. These rulers judged Israel until Saul was anointed Israel’s first king (circa 1050 BC). Not every Israelite judge was also recognized as a prophet.

Unlike some of the other judges, such as Gideon, Deborah did not lead the Israelite armies into battle. Instead, when Barak had received a military directive from God—and was dragging his feet—Deborah summoned Barak. She reminded him of the Lord’s command to lead 10,000 men of the Naphtali and Zebulun tribes into battle against Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army (Judg. 4:6-7).

Barak was reluctant to trust in God’s promise of victory, however, and refused to go into battle unless Deborah accompanied him! “If you go with me, I will go” (Judg. 4:8). Deborah agrees to go with Barak, but because of his lack of faith in God’s promise, she informs Barak that he will not be the hero: “the road on which you are going will not lead to glory.” Instead, God would choose His own hero from an unexpected place: “God will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (Judg. 4:9). Mighty Sisera, commander of 900 iron chariots, who had oppressed Israel for 20 years, would be defeated not by male soldiers, not by the strength of arms, but by the arm of a woman who God would providentially set in Sisera’s path: Jael.

Jael was the wife of Heber, a Kenite (Judg. 4:17). The Kenites were a nomadic people living in Canaan, who emanated from Midian, Edom, and the Arabah. Moses’ father-in-law had been a Kenite. However, while they were generally on good terms with the Israelites, they were not Israelites. In fact, Heber was on peaceful terms with the Hazorites, oppressors of the Israelites. So, when Sisera, commander of the Canaanite army, fled from the battlefield (after Barak’s army decisively defeated them) and sought shelter in Heber’s wife’s tent, it made sense tactically; Sisera believed he was hiding in an ally’s tent. He was wrong.

Commentators have debated why Sisera chose to hide in a woman’s tent (did he think it was the least likely place to be searched?); why Jael, the wife of a Kenite, decided to kill the Israelite enemy (had he offended her in some way?). Whatever the reasons, when Sisera walked into Jael’s tent, he walked unwittingly to his demise at the hand of an unlikely person. While Sisera was sleeping, Jael took a tent peg and hammered it into his head (Judg. 4:21-22). Thus, the mighty oppressor of Israel died at the hands of a Kenite woman.

The author of Judges concludes the story by attributing the victory to the Lord: “So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel” (Judg. 4:23). Indeed, this victory was God’s doing and not man’s. Afterward, the land was at rest for 40 years (Judg. 5:31).

Deborah exemplifies God’s authority and faithfulness to His promises. Jael exemplifies God’s use of weakness to defeat strength. While God used 10,000 Israelite men to rout the Canaanite army—a remarkable achievement and sign of God’s blessing—God’s glory shone most brightly in the slaying of the mighty general by a housewife, as predicted by a female prophet and judge.

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Coronavirus and the Underground Church in Iran: An Interview with Iranian Christians

by Family Research Council

March 30, 2020

Iran is one of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus. The Iranian regime has struggled to contain the outbreak, leading to tens of thousands of infections and thousands of deaths. Meanwhile, Iran’s religious minorities continue to face persecution during the coronavirus crisis. Christians in Iran are regularly subject to harassment by authorities or arbitrary imprisonment. Even though Iran has released many prisoners due to the spread of the coronavirus and the unsanitary conditions of the prisons, some Christians remain imprisoned, being put in danger by the virus.

Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh converted to Christianity in Iran and experienced persecution at the hands of the Iranian regime. They both spent nine months in prison on charges of apostasy, blasphemy, and anti-government activity because they left the state religion of Islam. Today, they live in the United States and advocate for religious freedom in Iran.

To learn more about what is happening on the ground in Iran, we asked Maryam and Marziyeh what Iranian Christians are facing during the coronavirus crisis.

FRC: What impact, if any, has the outbreak of coronavirus had on the underground church in Iran? 

Maryam and Marziyeh: Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Iran, and especially when the general population became aware of its danger and how fast it can spread, people became concerned and some started the practice of social distancing. We heard underground churches in Iran have cancelled their in-person meetings and instead they meet online either through Skype or other social media apps such as Telegram. They all join online and have their worship, teachings, and fellowship by all members participating and sharing their thoughts. 

FRC: What actions has the government taken to respond to the coronavirus crisis and what is the reaction of Iranian Christians to how the government has handled the outbreak?

Maryam and Marziyeh: Since the start of coronavirus outbreak in China the Iranian government was aware of the danger and spread of the virus but didn’t stop the flights from and to China and allowed the virus to spread all across Iran. They invited Chinese Muslims to the city of Qom and for a long time the Iranian government hid the spread of coronavirus in the country, especially at the time of parliamentary election, when they needed people to participate in voting. In some cases, regime hardliners who support the supreme leader reacted to the closure of holy places, opened the doors, and encouraged people to enter and participate in religious rituals in those places for healing. Instead of supporting doctors and nurses who have worked tirelessly since the beginning of the outbreak, the government encouraged and allowed Mullas who would spread their superstitions based on Islamic ideas—call it Islamic medicine—to visit hospitals and patients.  

The regime has handled the situation very poorly and adopted no measures to contain the spread of the virus—instead they tried to find another way to put pressure on people. For example, according to Farsi media, those who hide their symptoms would receive a one-year prison sentence. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has hoarded masks and other necessary supplies and sells them with a much higher price. Unfortunately, even the financial and medical help from the international community will not get to the Iranian people; the regime has control over all those supplies and uses them for their benefit. This week, the regime has encouraged and even forced a lot of people to participate in the funeral of Hossein Assadollahi, one of the former commanders of IRGC, at the time that most governments’ leaders encourage social distancing to stop the spread of the virus. Many Iranians, including Christians, have been very frustrated by how the regime has handled the situation. 

FRC: How are Iranian Christians feeling during the outbreak? What are they most concerned about?

Maryam and Marziyeh: Christians like other Iranians are concerned about how fast the virus is spreading across Iran and the poor handling of this situation by the regime. Christians are particularly concerned for their loved ones who are still in prisons; some of them are not known and no one knows anything about their conditions. We heard the coronavirus has spread among prisoners and there is a lot of concern that political and religious prisoners will be at higher risk if they remain in prisons. According to some news, only about seven Christians who were in prisons got released temporarily. Still, there are many more who are in prisons and at risk of getting sick.

FRC: How can the American church be praying for Iranian Christians—and all Iranians—right now?

Maryam and Marziyeh: A majority of Iranians believe that the Iranian regime is a bigger threat to the safety and security of millions of Iranians than the coronavirus. The terrible handling and poor management of the regime in this situation has led to thousands of deaths already. The regime has always been dishonest and put the regime’s supporters’ safety and security above all other Iranians. Iranians become happy these days to hear that some regime agents and Ayatollahs have died because of the virus. Millions of Iranians want to see the end of the regime that doesn’t care at all for their safety, security, and economic well-being.

The American church can unite with Iranians and pray that the Iranian regime will be overthrown and real freedom can come to Iran in the near future, because while this regime is in power, we will hear about a new crisis every day. Whether it is the regime’s mismanagement of flooding or earthquakes, shooting down a passenger airplane, killing thousands of protestors, or mismanagement of coronavirus, the Iranian people are suffering every day. Please pray for Iranians’ strength to be able to handle these difficult times. Also, please pray that the Lord will strengthen the Iranian Christians’ faith and give them courage and wisdom to share the Gospel with Iranians who need to hear the message of salvation these days. 

While the United States is occupied with news of the coronavirus at home, this health crisis is also affecting persecuted believers around the world, making their already tenuous situation more sensitive. As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, we must continue to pray and advocate for religious freedom in Iran and around the world.

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How the Coronavirus Relief Bills Benefit Churches and Other Nonprofits

by Travis Weber , Connor Semelsberger

March 27, 2020

There has been much discussion recently about the “Phase 3” coronavirus relief bill, H.R. 748, the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security” (CARES) Act. Passed by the Senate on March 25, passed by the House on March 27, and signed into law by President Trump on the same day, the CARES Act is designed to provide broad-based economic relief and funding in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. While some of the headline-grabbing sections of this bill address health care supplies and financial assistance for large corporations, several key provisions directly assist nonprofit organizations, including churches.

Direct Loans to Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Churches

One of the major sections of the CARES Act is the $350 billion Payment Protection Program, which creates federally-guaranteed loans (operated by the Small Business Administration (or “SBA”)) to small businesses and other entities (including nonprofit organizations) to cover eight weeks of necessary expenses. To be eligible for these loans, the entity must have fewer than 500 employees, or the number designated as “standard” for its specific field—whatever is greater. Including entities in this manner will result in many small businesses and nonprofits being covered by these loan provisions.

For purposes of these loans, the CARES Act defines an eligible nonprofit organization as “an organization that is described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and that is exempt from taxation under section 501(a) of such Code.” Under IRS guidance, this generally includes churches—even if they have not registered with the IRS—as long as they meet 501(c)(3) requirements that:

  • They are organized and operated exclusively for religious, educational, scientific or other charitable purposes;
  • Net earnings do not inure to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder;
  • No substantial part of their activity may be attempting to influence legislation; and they do not intervene in political campaigns; and
  • Their purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy.

Under the CARES Act, limitations that the SBA places on loans to religious entities (including a requirement that religious entities show they are not principally engaged in teaching, instructing, counseling, or indoctrinating religion or religious beliefs) are waived. As long as the church or nonprofit was operational and paying salaries and payroll taxes on February 15th, 2020, it is eligible for these loans.

Ian Speir, an attorney whose clients at Nussbaum Speir Gleason PLLC include numerous churches and nonprofits, agrees, telling us it would be constitutionally problematic to exclude churches in light of recent Supreme Court decisions, which clarify that generally available public benefits can’t exclude religious organizations who are otherwise eligible. Speir also noted his agreement that churches are included within the CARES Act’s definition of “nonprofit organizations.”

Under the CARES Act, the maximum loan an organization can receive is based on a calculation that will come out to 2.5 times the average monthly payroll, or $10 million, whichever amount is less.

If an organization uses the loan to cover payroll costs, health care benefits and premiums, employee salaries, mortgage or rent payments, or any other interest payments, the loan will be forgiven. There are also provisions for waiving borrower fees and other collateral and credit requirements, as well as automatic deferrals of any payments for six months.

There are also incentives for organizations to keep employees on the payroll. The total amount forgiven will be reduced if the employer lays off any employees or reduces employee pay more than 25 percent during the loan term. The program also encourages organizations to rehire any employee already laid off by not adding any penalties for those employees brought back onto the payroll. So, if the organization certifies with the lender that it used the loan for the appropriate expenses, the loan will act as a federal grant with no need to pay any amount back. If the organization does not use the loan for appropriate expenses, it must pay back outstanding funds with an interest rate of 4 percent.

To help stop the spread of the coronavirus, local and state authorities are restricting large gatherings, causing many churches and religious organizations not to meet in person, which can cause financial setbacks for them. We are also aware that churches and nonprofits are suffering operationally through no fault of their own, creating significant financial strain. If that is the case with your organization, you may benefit from this new loan program meant to help cover payroll and other essential costs for the next eight weeks.

We recognize not every entity may seek to avail themselves of these loans, but they are there for those who wish to do so. The goal is not increased dependence on the government, but rather temporary assistance that can serve as a lifeboat through unexpected shock. In all this, we want to ensure that churches and religious organizations are not discriminated against, but rather are treated fairly and allowed access to any programs that nonreligious organizations can participate in. The coronavirus has affected all of us—religious and nonreligious alike.

The SBA should soon be adding more helpful information to their website on how to access this relief, but in the meantime, Senator Rubio has a good FAQ sheet with information on how to apply for these loans, available here.

Incentivizing Giving to Churches and Nonprofits

Now more than ever, churches and other charitable organizations need donations in order to meet immediate needs related to the coronavirus outbreak. But simultaneously, many Americans face financial hardship due to job loss, limited working hours, or increased medical costs. Such hardships may lead to a decline in charitable donations. By creating additional tax incentives for charitable contributions, the Phase 3 coronavirus relief package seeks to encourage Americans to continue giving throughout the crisis.

Under the CARES Act, charitable contributions up to $300 can be deducted above and beyond the standard deduction on annual tax returns. This new policy will help offset the negative impact on charitable giving precipitated by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which simplified and raised the standard deduction to $12,000. This change caused many tax filers to take the standard deduction instead of itemizing their charitable contributions. During negotiations on the CARES Act, the FRC team worked alongside allied organizations to increase the total amount of tax-deductible donations. While the $300 amount was not raised, this new level may apply to tax years 2020 and beyond, leading to more incentive for charitable giving going forward.

Finally, reducing charitable giving limits for those who itemize deductions on their tax return is another positive incentive put in place by the CARES Act. The cap limiting charitable contribution deductions to 50 percent of a person’s income has been lifted for the 2020 taxable year. This policy also raises the limit on corporate deductions from 10 percent of taxable income to 25 percent and raises limits on food inventory donations from 15 percent to 25 percent.

Unemployment Insurance Assistance for Those Working for Nonprofits

In addition to the $1,200 one-time rebate checks for many Americans, the CARES Act expands unemployment insurance to help those who are without work because of the coronavirus outbreak. This bill creates a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Program that will run through the end of the year. The program provides unemployment benefits for those who do not usually qualify, including religious workers, the self-employed, independent contractors, and those with limited work history. It also covers the first week of lost wages in states that do not cover the first week a person is unemployed.

While most churches are not subject to unemployment insurance, some nonprofits should be aware of this new policy in case they need to lay off or have already laid off employees who may claim unemployment insurance. Fortunately, there is language in this bill to help nonprofits cover some of these costs. H.R. 748 provides payments to states to reimburse nonprofits that are not a part of their state’s unemployment system, reimbursing for half of the costs the nonprofits incur to pay unemployment benefits. Unlike other employers, nonprofits have the option to pay state unemployment insurance taxes or reimburse the state only for the benefits paid to former employees who collect unemployment insurance. The U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Unemployment Insurance and individual states provide more detailed information on how unemployment insurance programs operate.

Paid Medical and Sick Leave Requirements that May Implicate Nonprofits and Churches

In addition to the Phase 3 bill being discussed here, President Donald Trump signed the Phase 2 coronavirus relief bill, H.R. 6201, on March 18th, 2020. While this bill included new paid medical and sick leave requirements designed to benefit employees but which may place requirements on nonprofits, the Phase 3 bill provides for some ways to cover these expenses. The Labor Department recently released initial guidelines for these paid medical and sick leave mandates, and will provide further regulations in April 2020.

First, H.R. 6201 expands the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) by including increased leave protection for employees who are unable to work or telework because they need to care for a child whose school or childcare facility was closed due to the coronavirus. Under this expansion, employers are not required to pay the employee during the first 10 days of leave, but the employer has to pay for remaining leave time up to $200 per day.

Separate from the FMLA change described above, the Phase 2 relief bill establishes an emergency paid sick leave program that requires employers to provide two weeks of paid sick leave for employees that cannot work or telework because of the coronavirus. Employees are only entitled to this mandatory sick leave if they are: having coronavirus symptoms, have been advised to self-quarantine, subject to a government quarantine, or caring for someone with coronavirus symptoms. The total amount of paid leave is equal to two-thirds the employee’s regular wages, whether salary or hourly work, and is capped at $511 a day. Both leave requirements will expire at the end of the year.

Providing paid leave during an uncertain financial situation can be difficult for some churches and nonprofits. The cost for the above two policy changes fall on employers, but there are ways for employers to alleviate the financial burden, as described below:

  • These mandates apply only to employers with fewer than 500 employees. H.R. 6201 also provides the Secretary of Labor with the ability to exclude organizations with fewer than 50 employees if providing the paid leave would jeopardize the viability of the organization.
  • If an organization has more than 50 employees or is not excluded from the Department of Labor’s waiver for other reasons, the Phase 3 coronavirus relief bill creates advanceable credits to help cover paid leave. These credits are a dollar for dollar reimbursement for all wages paid under these new requirements. The tax credits also apply to costs incurred to maintain health insurance coverage.
  • An organization can also apply for the Payment Protection Program loans previously mentioned that are designed to help nonprofits cover payroll costs, health care benefits during periods of paid medical and sick leave, and employee salaries.

Encouraging and Aiding the Church’s Response to the Coronavirus Outbreak

The CARES Act also recognizes how important churches and local community organizations are to providing food and other needs during this crisis. To increase state grants for these types of services, this bill provides an additional $1 billion for the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG). This grant is given to the states so they can partner with local community organizations to lower poverty, address homelessness, and provide services addressing unemployment, education, nutrition, and health. This is a grant program that churches and religious organizations can access, as the law explicitly states religious organizations must be treated the same as other nongovernmental organizations when applying for these grants. Churches in several states have partnered with community organizations or received these grants themselves to operate food banks and other key services.

Churches and other nonprofit organizations have played a critical role in meeting the spiritual and physical needs of Americans affected by the coronavirus. During Senate negotiations over how best to respond to the economic hardships our country is facing, the FRC team worked to ensure that churches and other religious groups were not left behind and were instead recognized as organizations vital to the coronavirus relief effort—and we will continue to do so going forward.

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Valuing Life, Economic Productivity, and Human Flourishing in the Age of Coronavirus

by Quena Gonzalez

March 27, 2020

At this writing, every governor has issued an emergency declaration in response to the coronavirus and almost all are recommending or requiring that non-essential businesses be temporarily closed. This is, predictably, wrecking havoc on the economy; weekly jobless claims have shot up to a record 3.3 million. For policymakers committed to protecting human life and promoting human flourishing, this raises a dilemma: How do we balance protecting human life (by slowing the spread of the virus) with promoting human flourishing (by avoiding unnecessarily crippling those same people economically)?

The concern for human life is real: The current data suggests that the novel coronavirus is much more contagious than, say, the seasonal flu, which the CDC estimates caused nearly half a million hospitalizations and more than 34,000 deaths in the 2018-2019 flu season. We’ve all seen the government warnings about the coronavirus, that the most at-risk populations include people aged 65 years or older and people with underlying medical conditions.

But the concern about human flourishing is real, too: We are called to work, and we are commanded to provide for our families, to care for the poor, and to contribute financially to the work of the church. Forbidding wide swaths of the workforce from working has spiritual as well as economic implications. Furthermore, the current government-mandated economic shutdown disproportionately impacts the poor, many of whom either work for hourly wages or in the service sector; often, those least able to afford loss of income have born the economic brunt of “shelter in place” policies.

Faced with the threat of a tsunami of sick patients overwhelming our health care system, our initial national response has tended to err on the side of protecting human life. (As a committed pro-life activist and the parent of a young, at-risk child, that makes a lot of sense to me.) But I’ve noticed an emerging debate between people who are beginning to question the wisdom of an ongoing total economic shutdown and those who continue to argue that we must protect human life, almost at any cost. The debate is exceedingly difficult because of the asymmetric nature of the threats: the immediate or near-term loss of life to hundreds of thousands on one side, vs. the medium-term loss of livelihood to potentially tens of millions on the other. Unsurprisingly, the debate seems to be escalating rapidly along partisan and ideological lines, with both sides talking past each other.

What is a pro-life policymaker to make of this?

Yuval Levin (former executive director of the President’s Council on Bioethics and special advisor for domestic policy to President George W. Bush) brings a welcome, calm evaluation in The Atlantic of where we are, and suggests a broad direction for next steps (emphasis added):

America has mobilized against the coronavirus in some impressive ways. Although we have faced problems and failures—the botched testing rollout, the immense challenges now confronting the health system—we have also seen an extraordinary transformation of our way of life in short order. People have largely accepted the necessity of social distancing and the burdens of shutting down huge swaths of the economy. We have seen real models of leadership, particularly at the state level. And even members of Congress have been working together and negotiating.

But so far, that mobilization has lacked a strategic framework—a clear medium-term purpose toward which our efforts are aimed and against which they are judged. Policy makers need to think about our response to the virus in terms of two steps: a hard pause, followed by a soft start. The pause is absolutely necessary, but so is the careful and gradual return to normalcy….

It is not yet possible to move from the hard pause we have taken to the soft and gradual resumption of normalcy. But it is essential that such a resumption be the goal of that pause. We all need to do our part to let the health system make it through the hardest, most intense period of critical cases. But the aim of public policy should be to have this period last weeks, not months; to let people keep their place while we go through it; and to enable a gradual, soft, uneasy return to work, school, commerce, and culture.

Some of what policy makers have already done has helped advance this cause, and some of it has been confused about its purpose. A clearer, well-articulated strategic framework for policy could help decision makers tell the difference, assess their options, make hard choices, and lead the way.

The whole piece is to be commended.

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6 Encouraging Points as We Face Coronavirus Together

by Patrina Mosley

March 27, 2020

We are facing something we’ve never faced before, that’s for sure—but we are all going through this together. I recently came across an encouraging message by Pastor and author Dr. David Jeremiah of Turning Point ministries. Here are the six points of encouragement from the scriptures Dr. Jeremiah offered that encouraged me and that I hope encourage you too.

1. Concentrate on Prayer

The first thing we should do when we face insurmountable challenges is to cry out to God. When King Jehoshaphat heard his enemies were coming to invade the kingdom of Judah, the first thing he did was “inquire of the Lord” and proclaimed a fast for all the people. We can pray the same prayer he prayed in 2 Chronicles 20:6-9; 12:

Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you… ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’…For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

2. Control Our Minds

I loved this quote from Dr. Jeremiah’s sermon: “How many of you know the human imagination is a powerful force? It can create a beautiful vision of a desirable future or it can conjure up the worst-case scenario. These dark products of the imagination can put us in the grip of fear—a place God would never have us go.”

There’s a great a principle to apply from 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

We need to learn to control our thoughts within the environment of the facts we have instead of letting our minds wander to all the terrible “what if’s” out there. This destroys our peace. What banishes fear is a sound mind—taking every thought under control. As a well-known saying goes, “Imagining the future without Christ is what it means to be anxious.”

3. Count Your Blessings

Counting our blessings may seem counterintuitive at this time, but it’s not. In the midst of uncertainty, we need to maintain a spirit of gratitude for all the blessings we have in our life. We can’t become ungrateful people. Pause for a moment and say thank you for what you have—often it’s things we took for granted during times of plenty. We can rest knowing that every blessing we have comes from God and the most important blessings are the spiritual ones. How has God worked in your life?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.

- Ephesians 1:3

4. Claim Your Promises

The Bible is filled with promises from God. We look to God for the strength that we need, and when everything around us doesn’t make sense, God still makes sense. Find a promise, take a time-out, and meditate on those verses.

Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you. Therefore, we may boldly say,

The Lord is my helper;

I will not be afraid.

What can man do to me?

- Hebrews 13:5-6

5. Consider Your Responsibility

While we are distancing ourselves socially, we can still get closer to one another spiritually. When you pray for someone, you actually draw closer to them at the throne of grace. If God puts someone on your heart, just pick up the phone or send a text and pray with them. Use this time to become spiritually close. Give yourself this goal: to spend five minutes each day praying with or for someone.

6. Continue Your Work

We are all adjusting our normal routines at the moment. Perhaps you’re a schoolteacher and your school is closed. Your routine is different, but you can still do a lot. Keep doing whatever you were doing the best you can, to bless others. Just keep doing the next thing! Keep going in the peace that God provides.

Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful.

 - John 14:27

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