DALLAS — The line to enter First Baptist Dallas was long, as people waited to enter the church for Sunday’s service.
It was Celebrate Freedom Sunday. Many people arrived hours in advance, hoping to secure a seat in the sanctuary in order to hear special guest Vice President Mike Pence.
Many of the churchgoers and supporters were wearing masks as they entered the church. However, it didn’t appear that social and physical distancing was enforced as people entered the building.
”It is good to be back in church,” Pence said as he greeted the crowd.
Pence, the chair of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, visited Dallas as the state of Texas is seeing record high cases of COVID-19. In Dallas County alone, 570 positive cases were reported on Sunday.
"As we work now to safely reopen this state and this nation to put Americans safely back to work, and to worship, let me take this opportunity to commend Governor Greg Abbott for his courageous and compassionate leadership for the people of Texas during this challenging time," Pence said.
Gov. Abbott, Sen. John Cornyn and housing and urban development secretary Ben Carson were among those who attended the service.
In his speech, the vice president touched on topics including the pandemic, faith, freedom, the economy and the administration’s efforts to rebuild the armed forces.
A large crowd of protesters also gathered outside the church.
”We really just wanted to come out here and show Pence that we are here,” said protest organizer Eric Ramsey. “We’re queer and we are not going anywhere.”
The protesters included advocates from the LGBTQ+ community and Black Lives Matter supporters. During the service, the crowd repeated chants and spoke out about human rights and social justice.
Supporters on either side did clash at one point. There were some heated exchanges on the streets, between protesters and those who attended the speech. Many of the churchgoers had to pass the protesters as they were heading to their cars.
”This is so sad. We need to all get together. For every one of them, there are a hundred of others that are not into this, tearing down this country and dividing us,” said Karen Watson, who attended the church service.
During a press conference away from the church, Vice President Pence and Governor Gregg Abbott urged people to wear masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
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