A conservative Christian group challenging coronavirus-related health restrictions across the county used inaccurate claims to compare the mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, to the Nazis. Quinton Lucas, a Baptist who serves as the third black mayor of Kansas City, drew attention after creating a broad policy designed to track the spread of the outbreak.
As of May 7, more than 3.9 million people globally have been infected with the COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, and more than 270,000 have died. In the U.S., the nation with the most infections and deaths, more than 1.2 million people have tested positive and more than 76,000 have died. In Kansas City, more than 700 people have tested positive and 16 have died — though the numbers in the greater metro area total closer to twice those levels.
Lucas reacted quickly to the developing coronavirus outbreak in March, declaring an emergency on March 12 and banning all events greater than 10 persons on March 16 as he also shut down schools and issued advisories for businesses. These moves came before similar efforts by the state, and even before a case was confirmed in the city but after it was found in the greater metro area.
Not only did Lucas issue quicker and stricter restrictions than the state, but he also is extending them longer. Missouri Governor Mike Parson, also a Baptist, ended his stay-at-home order on May 4. An April 30 order by Lucas allowed limited reopening of the city on May 6, but restricted religious gatherings to follow the same rules given to non-essential business he called the “10/10/10 rule.”
This 10/10/10 rule means they can open but allow no more than 10 people or 10 percent of building occupancy — whichever is greater — inside at a time. Additionally, the order mandated all groups to keep a sign-in for those who stay more than 10 minutes. This data would be confidential but would help local health officials contact people who attended a gathering with someone who tested positive in order to speed up efforts to prevent additional spreading of the virus.
While Parson removed any size limits for churches for May 10, Kansas City churches will be held to the 10/10/10 rule, although outside gatherings under Lucas’s order can include up to 50 people. Unlike governors in some states, Parson has not overruled local orders, which allows cities and counties to enact stricter restrictions.
The third “10” in the rule soon found its way into a press release from the Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal organization that represented a Florida pastor arrested for violating a mass gathering ban by holding large worship services. The group has also challenged coronavirus restrictions in several other states. The organization is associated with Liberty University, a school criticized for not closing its campus during the pandemic. The Liberty Counsel’s cases have included multiple ones where they argue religious liberty rights are being infringed upon by mass gathering bans even as churches are treated like other gatherings. The group also pushed May 3 as “ReOpen Church Sunday” as they called on churches to restart in-person services.
On May 1, the Liberty Counsel sent out an email about what they called “insane,” “tyrannical,” and “dystopian” coronavirus rules by government issues that impact churches. The focus in that particular fundraising blast was the Kansas City rule that churches — among others — collect names to help with contact tracing if someone tests positive for COVID-19.
The original email incorrectly said the rule required churches “turn over their membership lists” instead of just a list of those who attended a service if someone who attended that service later tests positive. The title of the email falsely claimed “churchgoers must register with the government in Kansas City,” when the provision instead required organizations to keep a list, not register it with the city. The email also inaccurately claimed the information was for the “Kansas Department of Public Health” even though Lucas is mayor of Kansas City, Missouri. Instead, the information is for local Kansas City health officials.
“The Germans did this very thing to Jews — collecting the names and locations of all known synagogue attendees — in the early days of the Nazi regime,” the email from Liberty Counsel head Mat Staver claimed. “Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined Nazi-like measures designed to surveil, track and spy upon what was once a FREE American people. Yet that is exactly what Kansas City’s misguided government officials are now demanding.”
“We are at the brink of losing America as we know it, along with all the liberties our once-free people enjoyed,” Staver added as he criticized the “over-hyped, media-driven COVID panic.”
The Liberty Counsel email also praised President Donald Trump while attacking Democrats, like Lucas, for “doing everything they can to thwart not only a recovery but also the very foundations of our republic!”
The Nazi label and the inaccurate claim that churches were being singled out with the rule quickly spread on conservative news sites and social media. And even after the Liberty Counsel changed the inaccurate language on its site about “membership lists,” that myth remains on numerous other sites. The nonpartisan fact-checking site PolitiFact.com called the Liberty Counsel email “mostly false.”
Four days after the initial 10/10/10 order — but before it went into place — Lucas amended it on May 4 to make the provision about keeping a list of those who stay more than 10 minutes merely a suggestion instead of a requirement. Like the original rule, this new suggestion wasn’t just for churches but all non-essential businesses.
Lucas defended the suggestion that groups keep attendee information since that could help with “contact tracing” once someone tests positive. He also said it wasn’t about an effort to “keep big lists” but to help the organizations contact people if a case is confirmed.
“If you’re an event, a religious institution that has people check in and sign in all the time, you should keep those,” he added after also mentioning examples of salons and restaurants.
The next day, the Liberty Counsel claimed the “unconstitutional provision” was “repealed” because they made the story go “viral.” In that press release, Staver claimed the original “requirement to record names and contact information of anyone who attends a religious gathering was a gross violation of the First Amendment.” The new release again inaccurately said the contact information would go to the “Kansas Department of Public Health.”