Interfaith Alliance of Iowa implores Gov. Reynolds to mandate COVID-19 mitigations

The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa created a petition that gained over 700 signatures requesting Gov. Kim Reynolds to put more mitigation measures in place regarding COVID-19.

Jill Even and Michael Pruisner

The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa held a press conference Monday requesting Gov. Kim Reynolds to mandate COVID-19 mitigation strategies such as mask wearing and limiting social gatherings.

The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa was founded in 1996. According to their website, “the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa & Action Fund is a statewide, non-partisan organization working to protect both faith and freedom in Iowa.”

The press conference group included Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa; Bishop Alan Scarfe of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa; Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz of the Agudas Achim Synagogue; Baljit Singh Virdi of the Iowa Sikh Association; Imam Nermin Spahic of the Islamic and Cultural Center Bosniak and the Rev. Brigit Stevens, executive conference minister of the United Church of Christ.

The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa released a Google document petition that over 700 Iowans have signed requesting Reynolds to “mandate Iowans wear a mask in public, prohibit all social gatherings beyond the immediate household, increase testing availability in communities across the state, mandate weekly testing of teachers, community college students, staff in crowded places and hospital personnel, limit indoor restaurant capacity to less than 50 percent and restrict hours until the number of cases and test positivity is reduced and mandate masks be worn by students and teachers in K-12 schools.”

After four days, there were 793 people from all different backgrounds, religions and races who signed the petition.

“An ad campaign is way insufficient for dealing with the realities of this moment,” Scarfe said. “People need the strength of mandates when they’re in a capacity to do the right thing.”

Scarfe compared COVID-19 to the Spanish flu, and said people flocked to their spiritual centers in that time of crisis, which they did to their peril.

“We have their suffering to warn us, and we have advanced science and knowledge to guide us,” he said. “This too will pass, and we will look back and say thank you for the lives [Reynolds] will have saved and the suffering [she] will have helped to evade.”

Hugenholtz said her synagogue has been proceeding digitally since the beginning of the pandemic. Hugenholtz compared COVID-19 to the ninth and 10th plagues in the book of Exodus from the Torah.

“Our tradition tells us that it was the lack of humanity that exacerbated the worst effect of that calamity […] We Iowans can generate light in this crisis,” she said. “The light of evidence-based science, the light of health care, of responsible and proactive government, as well as individual citizens stepping up to the plate to bring this pandemic to heal.”

She also addressed the governor, imploring her to restore trust in each other and institutions by ordering a mask mandate to protect those vulnerable to the disease and honor the sacrifices of the essential and health care workers.

“Governor Reynolds, as a representative of the Jewish tradition, I appeal to our highest values of saving life,” Hugenholtz said. “For as our rabbis teach, one who saves a single life, saves the world entirely.”

Singh Virdi said a pillar of the Sikh faith is Seva, which means selfless service. He said a large part of Seva is community, but also doing the best you can in a situation to do the most good.

“All human beings are being affected regardless of religion, caste, color, et cetera. It is our moral duty to protect those we are thankful for in our families and communities by being safe,” he said.

He also brought up the White House’s coronavirus task force recommendations for Iowa, as well as the accelerating case numbers in Iowa that resulted in tightly packed hospitals.

“This nonvisible virus has shown us the reality of nature,” Virdi said. “It taught us to respect nature. If we do not take care of nature, it will take care of us. So on behalf of Iowa families, we request our governor to implement and enforce the task force guidelines as soon as possible.”

Spahic is the leader of his mosque in Granger, Iowa. He quoted the Quran, and said everyone is a shepherd who is responsible for his flock.

“No doubt, every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock,” he said, addressing the viewers. “As a leader of my community, I will be responsible if I don’t take care of my community members. This is a good message to our governor, Kim Reynolds, to do what she can and what she is responsible for.”

The Rev. Brigit Stevens said the greatest commandment in the Christian faith is to love one another as ourselves. She said the best way to show this love is to protect our neighbors by wearing masks, staying apart, washing hands and for everyone to find their voice and do their part in encouraging others.

“We need Governor Reynolds to join with us in this very urgent time to add the leadership and the actions that only she has access to,” she said. “Governor Reynolds, we implore you to lean in just as hard as we have been with all of the tools available to only you, to offer these mandates, wearing masks in public, prohibiting social gatherings, increasing testing, mandating weekly testing of teachers, of students, of staff or hospital personnel to really turn up the urgency in our state.”

Stevens said that when we each do our part in this way, we will be able to be unified to protect our neighbors and fellow Iowans. She said COVID-19 sees each of us as connected, which speaks to her understanding of faith as well.

These religious leaders brought their petition to Reynolds on Monday.