The humanitarian relief organisation behind a sprawling field hospital erected in New York's Central Park has been criticised for making employees sign a "Statement of Faith" that outlines their views on the sanctity of marriage.
As New York struggled to cope with a skyrocketing rate of coronavirus infections, charity Samaritan's Purse stepped in to help. However, despite devoting a huge amount of time and effort to the fight against Covid-19, the group has come under constant fire for its Christian underpinnings.
Now, the group is being criticised for declaring that it believes in marriage as between one man and one woman. "We believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female," the Statement of Faith declares. In response, State Senator Brad Hoylman took aim at the group's president, evangelist Franklin Graham, saying that the federal government was in the "unfortunate position of having to accept charity from bigots like [Rev Graham]" and that the authorities must "ensure that he follows the law," presumably in relation to the treatment of patients.
In a lengthy response posted to Facebook, Graham said it seemed "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 added: "It’s true, for 50 years, we have asked our paid staff to subscribe to a Statement of Faith—but we have never asked any of the millions of people we have served to subscribe to anything. In other words, as a religious charity, while we lawfully hire staff who share our Christian beliefs, we do not discriminate in who we serve.
"We have provided billions of dollars of medical care and supplies, food and water, and emergency shelter without any conditions whatsoever. Our Christian faith compels us—like the biblical Good Samaritan—to love and serve everyone in need, regardless of their faith or background."
Senator Hoylman was one of the politicians who requested that the partnering Mount Sinai hospital network made sure Samaritan’s Purse staff signed a non-discrimination agreement acknowledging their understanding of New York’s human rights law. Despite this reassurance, he still thinks that having Samaritan's Purse in the city could cause “incalculable” damage.
“I do fear that we’ve given Franklin Graham a platform in one of the most famous pieces of public land in the country to spew his hatred of LGBTQ people, and unfortunately at the same time legitimise his homophobia,” he added.
Responding, Graham said that in "a country that cherishes freedom of speech and religion" he did not "object to opposition or criticism of our beliefs as a Christian organisation."
"What we do object to is being harassed into diverting precious resources of time and energy and personnel away from serving Covid-19 patients in New York City in order to respond to demands for documents and other information from eight Democratic members of Congress, the Human Rights Commission and the Reclaim Pride Coalition—all while the death toll in New York continues to climb," he added. "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."
Speaking to Premier earlier this month, Graham talked more about his vision for the Central Park hospital: "We're going to do all that we can to try to save lives.
"We are there in Jesus' name, every person that comes in to the hospital - we want them to know that God loves them and cares for them. Our doctors and nurses pray for every patient. We give the best possible health care that we can but we do it in Jesus name, and we don't back away from our Christian faith."