People of faith were given something extra special to be thankful for late Thanksgiving Eve.
With Justice Barrett casting the deciding vote, the Supreme Court issued a decision stopping New York Governor Andrew Cuomo from enforcing strict 10-person or 25-person limitations for attending religious services.
Noting that the New York regulations single out houses of worship for harsher punishment, the Court gave an equally harsh rebuke to the state and Governor Cuomo:
“But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”
In other words, the Court reminded New York that the Constitution still matters.
As you celebrate this Thanksgiving, we know that as believers, we have much to be thankful for—even during a difficult year. Please join us in adding President Trump’s nomination and the Senate’s confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to our prayers of thanksgiving this year—as well as this strong decision from the Court reminding politicians that religious freedom is not “optional” under the Constitution.
Vice President, Strategy
Pastors have the emotionally draining and time-consuming responsibility to shepherd their flock, disciple believers into spiritually maturity, and administrate the business affairs of their local congregation. The weight of ministry only intensified during the past six months due to the coronavirus, as disagreements over masks, financial decisions regarding paycheck protection and staffing, and the quick transition to offer a worship experience through an online platform became the top priority.
Their schedule is stretched as family needs must be addressed, secular vocational jobs must be worked, and numerous meetings must be attended. Yet, their moral voice and influence is desperately needed to reverse the negative trends of societal decline that impacts their congregation.
This is where Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey® steps in. We strive to help pastors navigate the urgent issues impacting the family structure and facilitate regular conversations between elected state legislators and clergy. I want to encourage you to forward this email to your pastor and let him know about three ways we can serve the church you attend.
- Statewide Leadership Video Calls
Every month we intentionally build relationships and moderate healthy dialogue between pastors and state legislators. Despite the anti-family policies that continue to be introduced in Trenton, there are elected officials that are allies in our cause to see NJ be a state where God is honored, religious liberty flourishes, families thrive and life is cherished. These elected officials must take public positions on issues that many churches are hesitant to teach on. They face criticisms and challenges for promoting strong family policies. Therefore, it is imperative for them to feel and experience the support of pastors across our state. Our monthly video meetings are structured for pastors to pray for these state senators and assembly members, and to encourage them to remain committed to biblical values. In the past three months, Senator Mike Testa (R), Senator Anthony Bucco (R), and Assemblyman Bob Auth (R) have connected with pastors through these calls.
- Regional Pastor Briefings
Each year we educate pastors on the most troubling issues that threaten the family structure in NJ. This September and October, pastors will learn the facts about the LGBT curriculum in schools, recreational marijuana, and our continued pro-life efforts. Locations for this year’s meetings include Toms River Rockaway, Mount Laurel, Egg Harbor Township, and Warren. Click here for more information.
- Church Ministry
I regularly teach a Biblical message during worship services, bible conferences, and special events regarding the Christian’s Role in Public Policy. Drawing from the scared truth of scripture, we equip Christians to engage the government, and no matter the results, make sure that God is glorified in the process.
Finally, I urge you to do three things to help your pastor:
- Pray for them more.
- Criticize them less.
- Forward them this email.
Together, let’s make NJ better!
Director of Advocacy
Right now, families across America are managing the wild uncertainties of the new school year and facing difficult choices regarding the schooling of their children. Many families will be “virtual learning” for an indefinite amount of time. Others have chosen to pull their children out of public school and homeschool instead, and some are fortunate enough to return to a “new normal” of in-person private or public school. And, of course, many families are returning to homeschooling as usual. As families make different choices for their children’s education, no family is untouched by the effects of COVID on education in our country.
Millions of American parents have been compelled to decrease or stop working altogether to educate their children. We can relate. We both work outside the home, as do our husbands. We are grateful to have our careers but very familiar with the incredible challenge of educating children from home while working and parenting fulltime. It’s a lot to juggle, but we are the fortunate ones. Millions of American parents don’t have the option of flexing time at work or decreasing the amount of time they spend working. If they decrease their hours at work, their bills won’t be paid. It’s not an overstatement to say that many, many American families are faced with whether to provide food and shelter or education for their children. That is a choice no family should be faced with.
Some say “virtual learning” or “online school” is not homeschool. We agree – it’s not the same. In virtual school, the school provides the lesson plans and assigns work to students. However, the parents teach their young children how to use a mouse, open Google classroom, mute themselves, type into chat boxes, etc. –not to mention reading instructions to their children, helping them write and type assignments and ensure they are completed. In many cases, parents also absorb the financial costs of laptops, tablets, webcams, and high-speed internet service to participate in “virtual learning.”
Public schools receive thousands of dollars in state and federal funds per student enrolled in their school. Currently, public schools are receiving the same, full amount of per-student funding regardless of whether they are delivering in-class learning or “virtual learning” to students. Many districts are actually receiving more funding than normal due to federal COVID relief. So while parents are forced to work less or not work at all in order to home-educate their children, the public school system receives complete funding for their children’s education while the parents receive none.
This reality is not only unfair, but illogical and wrong. Now more than ever, taxpayer dollars for education must follow the child.
You might be familiar with the phrase “money follows the child” when you hear people talk about “school choice.” Traditional school choice allows states to give money directly to parents for the education of their child. Most commonly, these programs are called Education Savings Accounts or ESAs. These savings accounts provide families complete control over the taxpayer funds allocated to their child(ren) to purchase laptops, curriculum, private school tuition, tutoring and other supplemental materials.
Families need and deserve access to education savings accounts today!
Many families are desperate to access funds now to educate their children. If the public school is educating your child, that’s great. They should get the money. But if they aren’t, it is fundamentally unfair the school is getting paid while the families are getting the bill.
State legislators need to hear from families today. Please take a moment to contact your lawmakers and urge them to make education savings accounts available to families immediately. (To find your state representative and senator if you don’t know them, click here.)
Also, stay tuned! In a few short weeks, Family Policy Alliance® will be releasing a national education guide for equipping parents with all they need to know about school choice, what’s going on in the public education system and how to protect children, and to help parents engage with policymakers impacting their children’s education at all levels.
Statesmen Academy Director
By Vince Torres, President & Executive Director
The COVID-19 global pandemic continues to impact every area of our lives, and as we approach the fall, parents with school-aged children are shifting their attention to education. In New Mexico, schools were closed in early-March and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham recently announced that our public schools will not reopen for in-person learning until September at the earliest.
Even with the Governor’s announcement, tremendous uncertainly remains about whether schools will actually reopen this year and if another closing will quickly follow. Consequently, most New Mexico parents and families find themselves in the tough position of determining how to best continue their children’s education. While many parents will choose to utilize available online public education, a recent poll suggests that a record number of American families will homeschool their children this year. In either case, the new school year will commence much like the last school year concluded – with “home” as the classroom, and parents and guardians as the primarily responsible educators.
This reality begs the question – should New Mexico parents receive a partial refund of their children’s education dollars to support at-home learning?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, New Mexico taxpayers spend almost $10,000 a year per student on public education. This amount does not include federal funding dollars.
With public schools buildings closed from March through at least September, and with many families in need of help to support educating their children at home, what if New Mexico parents received a reasonable tax refund to help purchase curriculum, computers, supplies, tutoring services, internet access, and other necessities?
Maintaining some level of continuity in our children’s education is of the utmost importance and we must provide parents, grandparents, and guardians with the means to support educational excellence in the home. In years past, our political leaders have stressed the importance of keeping “more money in the classroom.” And since “home” is the classroom for most New Mexico children right now, perhaps some of our tax dollars should come back home.
“Education funding should always be student-centered…rather than institutional.”
-Dr. Lindsey M. Burke, The Heritage Foundation
Governor Murphy announced this week that NJ will offer a remote learning option for families who prefer to keep their children safely at home due to the potential spread of the coronavirus in public school facilities. His decision was based on the number of educators and parents who have stated their intention to refuse in-person education. He expects schools to physically reopen but does acknowledge that if an increased outbreak were to occur in the fall, school districts will be ready to transfer to complete at-home remote learning once again. Some public schools have already submitted their plans to split students into two groups at the start of the school year – spending half the time receiving in-person learning and half the time at home using remote learning.
With an increased likelihood that children might be spending time at home again this school year, this becomes a prime opportunity to take control of your children’s education.
Public school is becoming less attractive to morally conservative families. The new state Learning Standards for Sex Ed are graphic, explicit and age inappropriate. Pornographic illustrations have crept into high school literature classes despite parental outrage. Transgender themed novels are required reading assignments in many 5th grade classrooms. Sadly, our state legislature has recently passed a “State Approved Textbook Database” bill out of the Senate Education Committee. This will establish authorized vendors that school districts will be required to purchase all textbooks from regardless of any objection from local school boards and parents. If this becomes another flawed state law, textbook vendors will only be able to do business in NJ if they promote the LGBTQ agenda within their publications.
Due to the coronavirus, virtual learning might be a requirement, but virtuous learning is a choice. I know many parents might be unsure how to start homeschooling or might be intimidated to teach their students at higher grade levels. Are you interested in learning more about possibly home schooling your students this year? Please take our survey to help us find out the best way of assisting you.
We believe parents know their children best and are in the best position to make decisions about their children’s education. Home school is not for every family. We support parents being involved in public schools and private schools. Each family is unique in their schedules, abilities, and financial restraints.
Director of Advocacy
Cancel culture have you down? Whether it’s a cancelled event due to COVID-19 or a “cancelled” public figure, 2020 has certainly been the year of the cancellation. But here’s one thing that hasn’t been cancelled: the fight to protect families and freedom across our nation. In spite of the difficulties of COVID-19, we praise God for some amazing victories for religious freedom and the family.
Today, here are 7 victories people of faith can celebrate during COVID-19:
1. The Trump Administration included non-profit and faith-based entities in COVID relief.
In the thick of the pandemic’s economic fallout, it would have been easy for leaders to forget about – or intentionally ignore – non-profit and faith-based entities in their financial relief response. Thankfully, leaders made sure to include them, with even President Trump himself tweeting out, “The Paycheck Protection Program is up and running! The program is open to nonprofits as well, so banks be sure to sign up our Great Religious and Veteran Organizations that need help!”
2. Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey led a coalition of pastors to get churches on the Governor’s reopening plan.
As states began to reopen after initial closures, many included provisions for houses of worship. But not New Jersey! Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey joined with other local leaders and pastors to persistently ask Governor Murphy to allow churches to reopen. It’s a stunning story – but the good news is that thanks to the work of citizens, the Governor ultimately allowed churches to open on a limited basis.
3. The Supreme Court handed down three wins for religious freedom in recent decisions.
Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue: The Supreme Court affirmed that families in Montana should be free to choose the education that best suits their children—including in faith-based schools, that the old Blaine Amendment used to invalidate the scholarship program is bigoted and discriminatory, and that faith-based schools can’t be disqualified from a school choice program just because they are faith-based. Thanks to our friends at Montana Family Institute for their great work in making this win possible!
Our Lady of Guadalupe v. Morrissey-Berru: Our Lady of Guadalupe centered around a Catholic school that simply made an employment decision about one of its teachers – and got sued for it. The case asked whether the First Amendment prevents courts from interfering in situations like the one faced by the Catholic school. Ultimately, the Supreme Court took a stand on the side of freedom for religious institutions.
Little Sisters of the Poor vs. Pennsylvania: The Little Sisters of the Poor are a group of nuns who take a vow of chastity and provide care to the elderly poor. When Obamacare regulations would have forced them to pay for contraception (to which they objected on religious grounds), the nuns were faced with a choice to pay a large fine or violate their consciences. They chose the third option: go to court. After an extended series of lawsuits, the Supreme Court’s recent decision hopefully settled the nun’s case for good. And it’s good news: they don’t have to pay for contraception to which they have a religious, or moral, objection!
4. COVID ChurchAid proved a fantastic resource for pastors and churches navigating COVID’s uncharted waters.
Thanks to our friends at Florida Family Action for creating COVID Church Aid, a website filled with COVID-19 resources for church leaders, including resources on the Paycheck Protection Program. It was invaluable as pastors and churches made decisions about finances, reopening, and pastoring during a pandemic.
5. A federal judge recently ruled in favor of churches in New York
When houses of worship were targeted with capacity restrictions in New York, a federal judge disagreed – and prevented the targeting from being enforced. He noted that while New York Governor Cuomo and NYC Mayor de Blasio have both supported protest gatherings, they continued to restrict religious gatherings. We’re glad the judge saw the irony!
6. Family Policy Alliance of Kansas played a key role in three major wins for religious freedom in the state.
In the words of Advocacy Director Brittany Jones, “During height of the impact of COVID-19, Family Policy Alliance of Kansas never stopped working to protect the God-given freedoms of Kansans. We worked with legislative, grassroots, and policy leaders to push back when Governor Kelly targeted churches for unfair treatment. Her actions were eventually strongly rebuked by a federal judge. We were a key part to standing alongside legislators as they worked through an all-night session to correct Governor Kelly’s overreach into schools, businesses and churches and rein in her power as we continue to deal with COVID-19. Further, we worked with legislators and grassroots leaders to defeat multiple Medicaid expansion attempts that did not include important pro-life protections.”
7. In Wyoming, the Governor changed his public health order to allow churches to fully open despite COVID.
For freedom-loving people, this is a big win: churches are fully open in Wyoming! Of course, no one’s being forced to go to church or encouraged to not take important precautions. But we are glad that the state’s governor recognizes the importance of religious freedom, and your support of Family Policy Alliance of Wyoming helped make this possible!
We were encouraged by these wins, and hope that you are, too. Most importantly, we hope that you’re encouraged to keep up the fight. Many of these wins were not easy – for instance, getting the New Jersey Governor to put churches in the reopening plan at all. And we know that we have future battles to fight: The ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and their political allies continue to push their radical abortion and transgender agendas with no regard for people of faith. We’ve seen it even in places like North Dakota, where the legislature has defeated three religious freedom-threatening bills in two legislative sessions!
But when that happens again – as we know it will — we’ll keep fighting so religious freedom never gets cancelled.
Policy and Communications Strategist
This past Tuesday, Governor Murphy increased the indoor capacity for churches to 50 people or 25% building capacity, whichever is lower. Outdoor worship services are unlimited in size per Governor Murphy because of First Amendment protections.
Clearly, there is no greater commandment than to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves. People of faith should lead by example in their practice of safe social distancing recommendations. I believe local churches have done that, thanks to the leadership of pastors from across the Garden State. However, churches in NJ continue to be held to an unfair higher standard. Essential businesses can have more than 50 employees who come into physical contact with thousands of customers to be indoors for greater lengths of time than a worship service.
Therefore, Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey® has been working extensively with attorney Demetrios Stratis and dozens of churches across our state to file a lawsuit against the Governor to legally deem the church as essential to protect our rights in any future crises that may arise.
You can learn more about this joint effort at these media links.
The overreach of an out-of-touch state government must be addressed. Here’s what we have been up to.
On May 13, FPA of NJ sent a good-faith letter to Governor Murphy signed by 115 pastors to allow churches to operate following the CDC guidelines.
There was no response.
On May 22, we hand delivered a second legal letter with an attached lawsuit to Governor Murphy’s office in Trenton.
There was no response.
As a result, Attorney Stratis filed the lawsuit in federal district court in Trenton on May 29. This complaint uniquely addresses the “essential” nature of the church to retain our constitutional freedoms and core mission during times of emergency. Within five days of the lawsuit being filed, Governor Murphy promised churches would have increased capacity by June 12.
His ruling this week to raise indoor worship gatherings from 25 people to 50 people is disappointing but not surprising. One month after receiving a formal request on behalf of 115 pastors, the church is allowed 50 people indoors! In a sense, there was no response. This decision justifies the lawsuit that was brought on behalf of 29 churches.
The good news is despite this legal challenge, churches are reaching more people than ever through technology, drive in services, and outdoor gatherings with PA systems that often project the gospel into adjacent communities. God uses all things for His glory!
Making NJ better,
Director of Advocacy
“Make America Great Again” (MAGA) is a slogan used not only by Donald Trump, but before him by Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton. But according to Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen, Trump used it the best. Schoen called Trump’s use of MAGA “the most resonant campaign slogan in recent history.” Why? Because in Schoen’s opinion, large majorities of Americans in 2016 believed our country was in decline. It seems likely that a post-COVID-19 poll would show people starting to feel that way once again.
If the MAGA message is so resonant, it’s worth asking: what does “making America great again” really mean? Is it just a campaign ad? Or can we actually achieve greatness and keep it? The answer may have been given to us in 1885 by a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville. As he toured America, he observed:
“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the Churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” [emphasis added]
Tocqueville recognized the strong influence of the Church in America. He was a strong supporter of the separation of Church and State, but also a strong supporter of the practice of religion. Rather than attempting to push faith out of the public sphere, he welcomed the practice of faith and its influence on the culture.
Rhode Island should take note. Churches have been largely shut down for weeks, and in the meantime depression, domestic abuse, suicide, and drug abuse have all increased. This is exactly where Rhode Island churches can be most helpful – and a critical reason our church doors must be allowed to reopen more fully.
Currently, restaurants can seat 50% of capacity – but Rhode Island churches remain at 25%. When churches are not being treated equally to other entities in the state, that signals a threat to our religious freedom – and with it, a threat to the “greatness” of our state. The right to gather together for worship is one protected by our Constitution, and one that should not be taken lightly.
That’s why we are asking Governor Raimondo to welcome religion in her Phase 2 COVID guidelines, just as Tocqueville welcomed it more than a century ago. We’re asking her to allow church doors to open at 40-50% capacity, and for her to recognize churches as “essential.” If you haven’t already, will you join with us by signing this petition, and sharing it with your Rhode Island friends? There is strength in numbers, and Governor Raimondo needs to hear from you!
Post it, tweet it and forward it. Let’s make Rhode Island a state where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, life is cherished, and families thrive.
Chairman, Board of Advisors – Rhode Island
By Vince Torres, President and Executive Director
“Why did you wait so long to reopen?”
“Why are you being so reckless by opening this early?”
“COVID is just a conspiracy and by closing, you are sacrificing all our religious rights!”
“COVID is going to kill everyone in the church if you reopen!”
“I hate the web stream! I will see you in-person Sunday!”
“Make sure you keep the web stream. I won’t be back for a while.”
These statements are just a small representation of the “input” many pastors continue to receive during the COVID pandemic. For every churchgoer who is anxious to return to in-person services, there is another who is anxious about the prospect of in-person services, and so many other sentiments somewhere in between.
Over the past several weeks, I have had the privilege of speaking with pastors from all over New Mexico. They represent different denominations and lead churches of different sizes. And whether they pastor 50 people or 15,000 people, these pastors all share a common burden when it comes to addressing the challenges of COVID and safely relaunching our in-person services.
As a pastor, I understand these burdens well, and while some believe the decisions pastors face are rather easy, I assure you—they are not. Every person has an opinion about what our leaders should be doing—whether those leaders be pastors or elected officials. However, when it comes to the church, we should not treat our pastors as politicians, and rather than boosting their burdens, we should be bearing them.
Your pastor needs your prayers. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” -James 1:5
It has been written and stated many times—your pastor has never led or pastored through a pandemic before. They need wisdom, discernment, and added grace and love to effectively navigate the challenges before them. Pray for them daily.
Your pastor needs your patience. “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” –1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
The truth is, there is no perfect plan or strategy for your pastor to employ. Every decision they make will be met with approval from some and disapproval from others. They may make mistakes, and if/when they do, extend the same grace they have extended to you and honor them with patience as God’s appointed laborers.
Your pastor needs your provision. “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” –Galatians 6:6
Please continue to give your time, talents, and treasure to your local church. As churches reopen, opportunities to serve will again be available and your pastor and church family need your help. As for your tithes and offerings, remember that they do not simply keep lights on in the church on Sundays—they keep food on your pastor’s family table the rest of the week; they put money and supplies into the hands of needy families in your church; and they support the furtherance of Gospel mission beyond your church doors.
Your pastor needs your protection. “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” –1 Timothy 5:17
One of the ways you can best honor your pastor is to protect them from unrighteous criticisms and sinful gossip. There is a big difference between expressing disagreement and sowing discord; and even when disagreements surface, remember that your pastor is leading a diverse church with a diversity of personalities and opinions. If you feel called to address a specific concern, do so in a biblical manner by communicating with your pastor directly. Encourage others to do the same.
The writer of Hebrews instructs us: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” There is an important truth here—that your pastor is responsible for your church and your people—not other churches and other people. Therefore, their decisions should not be made on the basis of what is best for the church or another church, but what is best for your church.
So, whether your pastor decides to open or delay reopening; to resume at one capacity or another; or to mandate certain restrictions or not—remember, they are doing so in a spirit of love and care for you. They need your prayers; they need your patience; they need your provision; and they need your protection—now more than ever.
Two weeks ago, 100 pastors signed our letter to ask Governor Murphy to place Houses of Worship in Phase 1 of his reopening plan. Gov. Murphy choose not to respond. Therefore, last week Family Policy Alliance of NJ partnered with pastors from across the state and attorney Demetrios Stratis to send a second legal letter – along with an attached lawsuit – giving Gov. Murphy until Wednesday, May 27, to recognize the essential nature of churches and allow them to safely operate following CDC guidelines.
Regional news covered this joint effort extensively:
- Philadelphia Inquirer
- Star Ledger
- Press of Atlantic City
- Tri State Voice
- TV news included Fox 5 NYC and Channel 69 News Lehigh Valley
I personally hand delivered the letter on behalf of 67 pastors and the upcoming lawsuit to Gov. Murphy’s office on Friday at 10 a.m. Hours later, President Trump called for the reopening of churches nationwide. We are thankful for his pronouncement in protecting the religious rights of believers. However, Gov. Murphy made clear over the weekend that his executive orders pertaining to indoor gatherings of 10 people remain in place for houses of worship. He has previously released plans to enlarge the size of indoor gatherings for libraries, museums, restaurants, and entertainment venues in the forthcoming weeks. Sadly, houses of worship continue to be excluded from that list.
We need you to take immediate action to contact Gov. Murphy’s office before the end of business on Wednesday, May 27. This is the deadline before the attorney and pastors file the lawsuit to protect religious freedom. Pastors are committed to following CDC guidelines. Other states, including the hard-hit state of Massachusetts, have demonstrated it is possible to reopen churches responsibly and safely. His administration must hear from you today!
Note: Allowing churches to meet indoors with limited capacity will not force other churches to assemble if their local leadership does not believe they can meet the CDC guidelines or prefer to continue only offering online church or drive-in church experiences. Unfortunately, Gov. Murphy’s recent allowance of drive-in parking lot worship services discriminates against churches in urban neighborhoods who do not have parking facilities.
Director of Advocacy