DEDHAM, Mass. (Christian News Network) — A Baptist church in Massachusetts was recently issued a cease and desist order from local officials who learned that it planned to resume holding Sunday services. Officials assumed that, by announcing services at all, the church planned on violating the 10-person limit on in-person gatherings. A religious liberties organization has now written to the Town to note that the pastor has done nothing wrong but is in compliance with the governor’s order as he clearly and specifically advised that each service would be limited to less than 10 people.
On May 3, Nick White, the pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Dedham, announced in a recorded video that in-person services were to resume on May 10. The small church of less than 40 people utilizes a dance studio for its meetings.
“We are doing this with the right mentality,” he told viewers. “[W]e are not doing this to ‘stick it to the man.’ We’re not doing this to stick our noses up at the government and just try be anarchists. We’re not doing this to rebel. We’re doing this because we have a biblical mandate to gather.”
“And we’re going to be doing it very respectfully,” White continued. “The Bible says to live peaceably with all men and that is our goal in this: to live peaceably with everyone around us and not be a bad testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ.”
He outlined that he tentatively planned two services and that the gatherings would be limited to fewer than 10 people each as Gov. Charlie Baker’s executive order requires. White asked for people to sign up in advance so appropriate planning could take place.
“I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know if we’re going to have 20, 30, 40 sign up,” he said. “If we have more than 20 sign up, we’ll go to three services. If we have 40 sign up, we’ll go to four services.”
Each person would be scanned with a forehead thermometer before being allowed to enter and attendees would be required to wear a mask and gloves. Services would also be kept no longer than an hour, and a deep sanitization would be conducted between services.
“We want to be sure everyone is safe. We want to be sure to protect everyone in the church,” White explained. “This disease is serious, and we want to take it seriously.”
View the video in full at the end of this report.
Nonetheless, White received a cease and desist order from the Town of Dedham days later stating that because the church was “observed advertising for services,” they were mandated to cease operations until Gov. Baker’s order expires. The Town seemed to automatically assume that the church, by announcing services at all, would be in violation of the in-person gathering limit.
White was warned that the Town could take the church to court over the matter.
“[O]n March 23, 2020, the governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued an order assuring continued operation of essential services in the Commonwealth, closing certain workplaces, and prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people,” the Town wrote.
“Whereas Victory Baptist Church is not a business providing essential services pursuant to Exhibit A of COVID-19 Order No. 13 and … on May 6, 2020 was observed advertising for services to be held on May 10, 2020 in violation of COVID-19 Order No. 13,” it continued, “you are hereby ordered to immediately cease and desist from operating Victory Baptist Church until such time as the governor rescinds COVID-19 Order No. 13.”
On Wednesday, the religious liberties organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) submitted a letter to the Town of Dedham to demand that it rescind its order as the church did nothing wrong.
“Pastor Nick White made clear in the online announcement that the May 10 services would be limited to ‘under 10 people’ per service to ‘comply with the guidelines that … Governor Baker has set forth for the state of Massachusetts,'” it wrote.
Furthermore, “[n]ot only did Victory Baptist express its intent to fully honor the executive order, it imposed conditions on itself well beyond those required under the executive order for any 10-person gathering, whether secular or religious,” ADF noted.
The organization advised that the church did not end up having services after all — most likely because of the town’s letter — but plans to this weekend. It asked that the Town rescind its order no later than Thursday in recognition that the church is not violating the governor’s order.
“While prudence may dictate that people of faith adapt the nature of their gatherings in situations like this one — precisely what Victory Baptist did — it is also incumbent on the government to know the law sufficiently to refrain from unlawfully harassing its citizens,” ADF wrote.
“[W]e demand that the board and the Town of Dedham rescind the order [to cease and desist] by 12:00 p.m. on May 14, 2020 and refrain from further harassment of this church,” it said.
“It makes no sense for the Town of Dedham to demand that this church refrain from meeting with 10 or fewer people when the governor’s executive order explicitly allows that gathering size,” senior counsel Ryan Tucker, who penned the letter, said in a statement. “The only apparent explanation is that the Town wants to harass this church.”