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This is exactly why religion is poisonous to rational governance.

It’s because it’s always a very, very short walk from imaginary assumptions to terrifying nuttiness, as this embedded video conspicuously attests.

The genesis of the clip was a June 24 vote by Palm Beach County (Florida) commissioners — wholly rational amid surging coronavirus cases in their area — to require that people in the county wear face masks in public, as virtually every American public-health official constantly urges for everyone nationwide.

But some (perhaps most) Christian Floridians in thrall to their flamboyantly maskless and scofflaw president, have apparently decided such a rule to protect everyone in the face of the extremely contagious, often deadly virus is simply government overreach in a free country.

The online news site Raw Story noted:

As The Daily Beast reports, the public hearing on Palm Beach County’s new mask policy drew scores of angry self-described ‘patriots’ who accused the commissioners of taking part in a conspiracy involving Bill Gates to enact a tyrannical government in the United States.”

“Every single one of you has a smirk behind that little mask, but every single one of you are going to get punished by God,” bellowed one angry woman at the meeting, as shown in this embedded video. “You cannot escape God. You cannot escape God. I’m going to say that again. You cannot escape God.”

So, for reasons that only make sense to disturbingly deluded people, sane public-health measures to protect everyone have suddenly become a hot political issue. But it’s only political because Donald Trump has decided he doesn’t like the optics or symbolism of possibly hundreds of millions of Americans wearing masks against a lethal virus (as health officials strongly advise they should).

Note that it’s the president’s currently plummeting re-election prospects that he’s really concerned about, not our health. If he were, he would be begging supporters to wear masks like every health expert in the country advises and not begging for you to come in huge numbers, without face coverings, to make him feel loved, respected and powerful as he begs for their vote in November for a second undeserved term.

So, this is why one Christian woman in Florida was literally screaming at the Palm Beach commissioners, oddly denigrating their new mandated masking ordinance as the “devil’s law” because it would “throw God’s wonderful breathing system out the door,” according to a report in The Hill.

Just a reminder that “free speech” is not always noble or valuable.

The surreal speeches at the commission meeting were captured in The Hill piece:

“One attendee, Sylvia Ball, said she was ‘very sad to see the authorities stomping on our constitutional rights,’ adding, ‘They want to throw God’s wonderful breathing system out the door. You’re all turning your backs on it,’ a local CBS affiliate reported.”

“Another attendee, Christina Gomez, vowed, ‘We will get together and do a citizen’s arrest on every single human being that goes against the freedom of choice’ adding that masks ‘literally [are] killing people … and every one of you who are obeying the Devil’s law are going to be arrested for crimes against humanity.’”

Since when is it unconstitutional to pass necessarily restrictive public-health laws to protect all Americans during a pandemic?

Well, by thumbing his nose at his own federal public-health experts (by not covering his own in public, and his mouth), and not modeling reasonable behavior that would certainly save untold thousands of American lives and unfathomable suffering, the president is telling citizens its OK to do whatever they want, public health be damned.

Why? Because he wants to be re-elected more than he cares about Americans’ safety in a pandemic. If you viewed the blatant lies and misrepresentations of Vice President Mike Pence’s first pandemic task force news conference in two months on Friday, you are now aware (if you hadn’t been before), that the president’s underlings are all-in in characterizing the suddenly worsening pandemic in the U.S. as much, much better than before.

CNN senior medical analyst Dr. Sanjay Gupta in a post-mortem of the news conference, said the spiking pandemic in a number of states is, in fact, a “catastrophe” at the moment. The surge of new cases nationwide this past weekend — 30,000 new cases each on Friday and Saturday, most in major metropolitan areas — were the highest national totals since May 1, and new cases are still surging.

The president numerous times before and the VP at Friday’s news conference have untruthfully claimed that rising cases are due to increased testing, but all public-health experts who are tracking the virus’ trajectory say new cases are sharply outpacing testing, and, more telling, hospitalizations are spiking in various communities.

One huge reason for these spikes is not that we are ignoring divine edicts but are refusing to wear masks, especially young people, who represent nearly half of new recent cases. The president is encouraging this dangerous civil disobedience, as evidenced by his two recent re-election rallies in Oklahoma and Arizona, where masks were as rare as hens’ teeth. But, the administration would have us believe it’s all good, except that eight members of the president’s rally team and two Secret Service agents tested positive for Covid-19 after Oklahoma, and some 20 agents are now in quarantine.

The Florida commissioners voted to mandate masks because citizens weren’t doing the right thing on their own.

“We had hoped the public could self-police and heed the Mayor’s recommendations issued weeks ago but that isn’t happening,” Commissioner Melissa McKinlay told The Hills. “As a result, our numbers are increasing at a concerning rate.”

I suppose they could have just thrown up their hands and said, “Oh, well, it’s a free country,” but it wouldn’t have accomplished anything except to make truth-challenged Christian opponents happy.

On Friday, five states — Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah  — all set new single-day records for new infections, and the nationwide one-day total topped 40,000 for the first time during the pandemic, according to the Washinton Post. Infections are increasing in 32 states, including a record of more than 9,000 infections in Florida on Friday. Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis — who has been clinging tightly to Trump’s coattails — continues to refuse to issue a statewide mask order.

So a lot of people will sicken and die unnecessarily, in addition to the 125,000 Americans who have already died from the virus, while the president and his minions deceive us so they can stay in power by pandering to conservatives.

Are we to understand that this is God’s will?


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— Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” in praise of “Holy Smoke”

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Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...

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