Franklin Graham claims harassment over Central Park ‘hospital’ that requires workers to pledge opposition to same-sex marriage

‘It seems tone-deaf to be attacking our religious conviction about marriage at the very moment thousands of New Yorkers are fighting for their lives,’ Graham says

Liam Stack
Wednesday 15 April 2020 13:10 BST
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The Rev. Franklin Graham on Tuesday accused elected officials and others in New York of harassment over their criticism of his medical organisation, which is operating a field hospital in Central Park for coronavirus patients that requires workers to sign a pledge that they are Christians who oppose same-sex marriage.

Graham posted his accusation on Facebook hours before Mount Sinai Health Systems, which teamed up with his organisation, Samaritan’s Purse, last month, informed state lawmakers that it would begin requiring those who work for the group to sign a second pledge vowing not to discriminate against patients.

Graham said Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical organisation that often works in developing countries, had never discriminated against a patient. But he said that the group had a right to “lawfully hire staff who share our Christian beliefs” because it is a religious charity.

“It seems tone-deaf to be attacking our religious conviction about marriage at the very moment thousands of New Yorkers are fighting for their lives and dozens of Samaritan’s Purse workers are placing their lives at risk to provide critical medical care,” he wrote.

Samaritan’s Purse has treated 130 patients in the 68-bed Central Park hospital since it opened on April 1, the group said Tuesday. But its role in the response to the virus in New York has been criticised because of its position on LGBT+ issues and the past statements and political activities of Graham, a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump.

On Sunday, Graham delivered an Easter message on Fox News while standing in front of his group’s medical tents in Central Park. In the message, which included footage of virus patients with their faces obscured, he described the pandemic in terms similar to those used by the president: “a storm” that “none of us anticipated” and “nobody expected”.

On Tuesday, Graham said that critics had been harassing Samaritan’s Purse with information requests while it was busy trying to save lives. He specifically mentioned the New York City Commission on Human Rights; the Reclaim Pride Coalition, a progressive LGBT+ group; and Democratic members of Congress.

People signing up to Reverent Graham’s work must also profess their Christian faith
People signing up to Reverent Graham’s work must also profess their Christian faith (Getty)

“If any of these groups had funded and erected their own emergency field hospitals to serve Covid-19 patients in Central Park, we would join what we believe would be most New Yorkers — and Americans — in applauding and praying for them, not harassing them,” he wrote on Facebook.

Last week, four Democratic members of New York’s congressional delegation sent a letter to Kenneth L David, the president of Mount Sinai Health System, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo asking how the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital would operate. The lawmakers also asked how the group came to be involved in the virus response in New York.

“Now more than ever, New York City must uphold its values and ensure that every New Yorker feels safe in seeking medical attention,” the lawmakers wrote.

In his statement, Graham said such requests had the effect of “diverting precious resources of time and energy and personnel away from serving Covid-19 patients” at a time when “the death toll in New York continues to climb”.

Mount Sinai has been criticised for weeks over its decision to collaborate with Samaritan’s Purse. Jason Kaplan, a spokesman for the hospital network, said the decision was based on the fact that “this virus kills people of every religious beliefs, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation”.

Kaplan also said that Samaritan’s Purse had agreed to adhere to Mount Sinai’s anti-discrimination policies.

“Mount Sinai and Samaritan’s Purse are unified in our mission to provide the same world-class care to anyone and everyone who needs it,” Kaplan said in an email. “No questions asked.”

Graham has defended the group’s views and its “statement of faith” as a matter of religious freedom. But the group’s vision of Christianity, and the role it plays in its operations, has caused concern in New York, including among some Christians.

Last week, a plan to turn the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, into a virus hospital was abruptly shelved after tension between the diocese, which promotes a more inclusive form of Christianity, and Samaritan’s Purse, whose workers were set to staff the facility.

Mount Sinai said the plan was put on hold because the number of virus-related hospitalisations in New York had begun to level off. Behind the scenes, though, Episcopal leaders said they believed it might still have proceeded if Samaritan’s Purse had not been involved.

The New York Times

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