Former Whitewater independent counsel Ken Starr lamented the decline of the influence of religion in today’s society on Friday, suggesting the retreat of faith and how political leaders used COVID-19 to restrict it further was at least in part responsible for a diminished social and community life.
Appearing on Fox News on Friday to promote his book "Religious Liberty In Crisis: Exercising Your Faith in an Age of Uncertainty," Starr referred to the first Congress, which adopted the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of the exercise of religion.
"We have huge problems,'' Starr said. ''The founding generation had a benevolent view of the role of faith in American life.''
He continued by noting how the first U.S. Congress also passed the Northwest Ordinance to govern then-territories in Ohio and Indiana, which specifically encouraged religion.
"Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged," Starr said.
''That was the law of the land but it also reflected the first two words, religion and morality, as well as education and knowledge, are necessary to human happiness. The country doesn't seem to be particularly happy right now. Does that have something to do — I happen to think it does — with the decline in social life and community life and also frankly churches, synagogues losing membership in so many parts of the country?"
Starr also pointed out the outbreak of COVID-19 invited political leaders to quickly restrict religious worship, banning church services, some of which at least initially were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court — by the liberal bloc with Chief Justice John Roberts — in cases in California and Nevada.
The Nevada case drew stinging rebukes from Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh, who decried the denial of the fundamental liberty religious worship by the Court under the guise of public health, yet did not see a contradiction by allowing gambling casinos and liquor stores to remain open.
"It happened so suddenly, so a lot of damage culturally, legally, unconstitutionally was inflicted,'' Starr said. ''Obviously, we are deeply concerned about this horrible pandemic that has taken so many American lives and across the globe. But did we go too far? The answer is yes."
The Court essentially reversed itself in a case out of New York later in the year.
"We need leadership from the pastors, the clergy persons that are willing to stand up and be courageous and say, 'Hey, we get to stay open and we want to continue to serve the people of our community,'" Starr said.
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