ALBANY, N.Y. — A guidance document from Empire State Development outlines that in-person church gatherings “of any size,” including house church meetings, are “canceled or postponed,” as per an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, until the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
“Pursuant to Executive Order 202.10, all non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reasons (e.g. worship services, parties, celebrations, or other social events) are canceled or postponed,” a webpage providing guidance on Executive Order 202.6 reads. “Congregate services within houses of worship are prohibited.”
“Houses of worship may only be used by individuals and only where appropriate social distancing of, at least, six feet between people can be maintained,” it continues. “Further, individuals should not gather in houses of worship, homes, or other locations for religious services until the end of this public health emergency.”
The guidance recommends rather “replacing in-person gatherings with virtual services, such as phone or conference calls, video-conference calls, or online streaming.”
Cuomo’s March 23 order, “Continuing Temporary Suspension and Modification of Laws Relating to the Disaster Emergency,” simply stated in one section at the conclusion, “Non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason (e.g. parties, celebrations or other social events) are canceled or postponed at this time.”
The Empire State Development webpage elaborated on how to interpret the prohibition on “non-essential gatherings.”
The Christian organization New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, while stating that it supports not meeting in large groups at this time, lamented the guidance in a blog post, opining that it “places [an] excessive burden upon religious expression.”
It finds the prohibition on house church meetings, which by definition are small gatherings that involve participation by friends and extended family outside the immediate household, to be over-the-top.
“When the governor banned public gatherings of 50 or more persons (including church services), we encouraged churches to comply with that ban … We did so in an effort to respect our governing officials, to love our neighbors, and to protect our fellow Christians from the coronavirus,” NYCF said.
“NYCF does, however, oppose this guidance document in its current form,” the group added. “First, we object to the characterization of worship services as ‘non-essential gatherings.’ Second, and more importantly, we find the assertion that New Yorkers should avoid gathering for worship in homes to be excessive, unnecessary, and constitutionally questionable.”
It further said that the language of the document is too broad and could be construed by some to think that those within the same dwelling are prohibited from worshiping together, “which, we trust, is not the governor’s intended interpretation.”
NYCF has called upon Gov. Cuomo to correct the problems and confusion that could arise from the guidance issued by Empire State Development based on his order prohibiting “non-essential gatherings.”
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.