After Telling Virginians They Didn’t Need AR-15s, Northam Tells Them They Don’t Need Church Pews Either
When state governors becomes nationally famous, it’s because they’ve done something exceptionally well, or horribly wrong.
It’s not that the two are always mutually exclusive. Half of America thinks Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is our lockdown goddess while the other half thinks she’s heavy-handed, draconian, and fond of implementing freedom-restricting measures with no basis in scientific fact. However, there are often governors who can unite us all in unadulterated disgust.
For instance, when I was a kid and a salmonella scare was at its peak, meddlesome New Jersey Democratic Gov. Jim Florio banned restaurants from serving runny eggs for a brief period in 1992. Johnny Carson, then still at the helm of “The Tonight Show,” wrote Florio’s political obituary with one joke: “There’s something wrong with a state in which you can buy an Uzi, but there’s a 10-day waiting period to get a Caesar salad.”
Today, Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam finds himself nationally famous for all the wrong reasons: He’s at the helm of one of America’s most politically divided states during one of the tumultuous periods in American history and after a solid run of runny egg-style incidents going back several years.
He’s not banning Caesar salad and Uzis have long since been illegal at the federal level. In the midst of a pandemic, however, Northam has decided it’s high time to take away the state’s “church pews.”
In a news conference Thursday — just before the beginning of Hanukkah, as the governor noted — Northam said God’s going to hear your prayers anyway, so why bother gathering with your coreligionists?
“This is a holy time for multiple faith traditions,” Northam said, accompanied by a sign language interpreter behind him. “Christmas is two weeks away. The holidays are typically times of joy and community. We gather together, we celebrate our faith, and we celebrate with family.”
“But this year we need to think about what is truly the most important thing. Is it the worship or the building. For me, God is wherever you are. You don’t have to sit in the church pew for God to hear your prayers,” he added. “Worship with a mask on is still worship. Worship outside or worship online is still worship.”
Leave aside that there’s no verbal lapse more Ralph Northam than starting your remarks by noting that Hanukkah is about to begin and then segueing into talk about taking away “church pews.”
Let’s recapitulate why Gov. Northam’s history of Florio-tastic screwups makes him possibly the worst person to try to convince Virginians they no longer have the right to congregate as the First Amendment stipulates they can.
In January of 2019, Democratic Virginia Delegate Kathy Tran proposed a bill that would do away with “the requirement that two other physicians certify that a third-trimester abortion is necessary to prevent the woman’s death or impairment of her mental or physical health, as well as the need to find that any such impairment to the woman’s health would be substantial and irremediable.”
The legislation was doomed to fail, but Northam decided to put his foot in his mouth and advocate for something that could be charitably called “fourth-trimester abortion.”
As National Review reported the moment came while Northam was speaking in the context of abortion being sought even while a child is being delivered, such as in cases of “severe deformities.”
“If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother,” Northam, a pediatric neurologist by profession, said in a radio interview, according to The Daily Caller.
As Northam tried to dig himself out of that one in the days that followed, an obscure conservative website found Northam’s medical school yearbook. His page included a picture of a man in blackface standing next to a man in Ku Klux Klan robes. Northam apologized for appearing in blackface in the photograph — but then later denied it was him.
How did he know? He said he knew because he appeared in blackface on another occasion, dressed as Michael Jackson for a dance competition, and it had such an impact on him that he would have remembered if he appeared in blackface on another occasion. As alibis go, this was right up there with saying you couldn’t have been stabbing the man you were charged with killing because you were stabbing someone else at the same time.
Northam survived the scandal, in part because the guy who would replace him if he resigned, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, was credibly accused of sexual assault and the guy who was next in line after that, Attorney General Mark Herring, unbelievably, had also appeared in blackface.
At the time, the fourth official in line for the governorship was Republican House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox. Democrats weren’t going to let the GOP take over the governor’s office just because of scandals over accusations of racism and sexual assault. They only count against Republicans when real power is at stake.
When Democrats took control of the Virginia legislature after the 2019 midterms, Northam pressed ahead with a suite of gun control measures that were wildly unpopular in much of the state. A ban on AR-15-style rifles, which was part of the package, was a bridge too far and Democrats refused to cross it when the measure came up for a vote in February.
By the time Northam signed the rest of the gun control legislation in April, Virginians had other things on their mind and a divisive piece of Second Amendment-bait probably wasn’t the thing to pursue if Northam wanted to unify the Old Dominion.
This was Ralph Northam, however: “I will not stop and that piece of legislation will be introduced again to ban assault weapons [from] our streets,” Northam said during an April call with gun control advocates, according to NPR affiliate WAMU-FM.
And now we have this: “For me, God is wherever you are. You don’t have to sit in the church pew for God to hear your prayers.”
Northam said his own church worships in the parking lot, according to a National Review article Thursday. That’s fantastic and manages, as Northam generally does, to miss the point.
According to WHSV-TV, Virginia’s second-wave COVID-19 restrictions aren’t especially different from other states in Democratic hands. There’s a curfew, a restriction on gathering sizes, and new limits on dining. So far, so Newsom.
The problems with Virginia’s new COVID strictures are fourfold, with one of those problems being unique to the state — or rather, the man running it.
First, Northam, like too many other Democratic politicians (looking at you, Mayor de Blasio), seems to take an unusual interest in restricting religious gatherings, an interest that seems to go a bit beyond congregations simply being a vector of transmission.
Second, like too many other Democratic politicians, Northam also doesn’t get that religious gatherings are afforded protections under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment that other gatherings aren’t.
Third, we don’t just gather as religious congregations because God hears our supplications so much clearer if we’re in a house of worship. In my own faith tradition, I can point to Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Yes, we must socially distance, but it’s also part of our faith to encourage each other in our walk with the Lord, particularly in times where we’re being tested.
Fourth, this is still Ralph Northam and there’s almost no one worse to deliver this message.
I didn’t really believe, when Gov. Northam gave that rebarbative interview with local radio about abortion, that he’d let a baby die after its mother gave birth — but he sounded like it. Likewise, his communication in the wake of the blackface scandal was shockingly poor. (After his strange Michael Jackson blackface “alibi,” a reporter jokingly asked him to do the moonwalk. Northam was visibly considering it until his wife stepped in and prevented him from committing political suicide.)
And now, as he tries to stop churches from meeting in person, his message is that you don’t really need that pew.
Northam is the kind of politician who’d happily ban runny eggs if the salmonella health panic of the early ’90s happened today. What’s worse, he’d somehow do a worse job of communicating it than Jim Florio did.
He’s now tasked with the most serious health crisis of the past century and, having blown all of his credibility on abortion, gun control and blackface missteps, this is the language he uses to try and convince churches to stop meeting.
Ralph Northam has already come for the Second Amendment. Now he’s coming for the First.
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