Republicans lawmakers and conservative Christians alike at this year’s Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Atlanta offered prayers to President Donald Trump as he fights off a COVID-19 infection. Many attendees say he is the only candidate “defending religion” in America.
A majority of the audience at the Cobb County, Georgia, policy conference were reportedly seen not wearing masks at the event, which was highlighted by GOP politicians and pastors praising the president. Video of the event showed few people wearing face coverings or practicing social distancing in the Cobb Galleria’s main ballroom. At least one speaker at the event, Tennessee Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn, had recently been in close contact with Trump over the past week.
Several GOP lawmakers used the event to urge Christians across the country to continue re-opening the country, despite the president’s recent coronavirus diagnosis.
“Look we have to get this economy reopened. We have to figure out ways to go back about life safely. I’ve been on 23 Delta flights since May. There is a way to do this safely, but we just have to take the precautions,” said Georgia Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, highlighting how the president’s COVID-19 infection shouldn’t halt his efforts to reopen businesses nationwide.
The Faith and Freedom Coalition organizers told WSB-TV they are following social distancing guidelines at the conference, but photos and videos show hundreds of attendees embracing in close quarters and seated next to each other without masks or other facial coverings. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s executive order restricts gatherings to 50 people, unless organizers enforce social distancing practices.
But most speakers or attendees were more focused on the upcoming November 3 presidential election between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. And at least one person in attendance, Representative Doug Collins, was focused on his own upcoming election against Senator Loeffler.
“[The president’s diagnosis of COVID-19] just continues that we all need to be cautious. Look at it there was no greater help than around this president and he’s still testing positive,” Collins told WSB-TV.
“We know we are all praying for a speedy recovery,” said Blackburn, in reference to Trump’s preparations for the final stretch of the 2020 presidential campaign.
Pastor Jentezen Franklin of the Free Chapel in Gainesville, Florida, was among the speakers praising Trump for “defending religion,” which he described as the top issue facing the country.
“This president and this time religious freedom is the number one issue, I believe, and to have a president who has our back, to have a president who considers the church essential, to have a president who is not ashamed of prayer and who welcomes faith back in America. He knows that to make America great we have to have God and make God great in America again.”
“Christianity will survive without America, but America will not survive without Christianity, the thing that has made us great is our faith in God, that’s why this gathering is so important. It’s not just about freedom, we understand the freedom is based in our faith,” Franklin added in an interview with OAN Sunday.
Faith and Freedom Coalition founder and chairperson Ralph Reed described the upcoming November 3 election as the most important of his lifetime.
Newsweek reached out to the conference organizers Sunday for additional remarks.