Handful of US states call for prayer, not confinement

Los Angeles (AFP) –


Faith in divine protection, defending the economy, or simply an ideological stance: A handful of rural US states, many fierce supporters of President Donald Trump, have stubbornly refused to issue stay-at-home orders despite the ravages of coronavirus.

Two of them -- South Dakota and Iowa -- have however officially called for days of collective prayer against the disease as Easter approaches.

South Dakota's Republican governor Kristi Noem justified her decision to buck the nationwide trend of confinement orders declaring that "the people themselves are primarily responsible for their safety."

Comparing stay-at-home orders to "draconian measures much like the Chinese government has done," the 48-year-old from a farming family in the Great Plains officially proclaimed Wednesday a "Statewide Day of Prayer... for an end to this pandemic."

Neighboring Iowa held its collective prayers the following day, led by fellow Republican governor Kim Reynolds.

"Throughout our history Iowans have found peace, strength and unity through prayer to God in humbly asking for his strength during times of difficulty," she wrote in her official proclamation.

Reynolds has closed schools, as well as many businesses and public places, and has banned gatherings of more than 10 people.

Last week, Iowa medical authorities unanimously called for more drastic containment measures similar to those in effect for 95 percent of the US population. But Reynolds said such restrictions were not necessary in areas where the coronavirus has not yet been reported.

People unknowingly carrying the disease can remain asymptomatic for extended periods.

- Commerce and faith -

"This isn't as much about what government says, it's more about what individuals do," said Doug Burgum, governor of North Dakota -- another state resisting mandatory containment, along with Nebraska.

Further south in Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson has stated that local factors like low population density mean widespread containment is not needed.

Downplaying the effectiveness of any statewide policy, he said that even if containment were enacted, exemptions for essential services would still mean "700,000 Arkansans would get up tomorrow morning and go to work."

He has slammed ordinances by local officials like the mayor of state capital Little Rock, who imposed travel restrictions.

And even in neighboring Louisiana, which has implemented confinement measures, some are resisting -- often citing religious freedoms guaranteed by the US Constitution.

The faithful of Life Tabernacle Church in the city of Central flocked to Sunday service last weekend by the hundreds -- many shuttled there in crowded buses -- in defiance of the ban.

"They would rather come to church and worship like free people than they had live like prisoners in their homes for 22 days," said Pastor Tony Spell.

He has been arrested and charged for violating confinement rules, but intends to continue his preaching regardless.

"Viruses feed on fear. I don't have fear, I have faith," one worshipper at the church told The Washington Post.

In northeastern Ohio, places of worship have been exempted from the ban on mass gatherings, despite the governor's reluctance.

"I'm covered in Jesus's blood," said one congregant of the Solid Rock Church in Monroe, when asked why she was not afraid of getting or spreading the infection while attending a service.