CARSON CITY, Nev. (Christian News Network) — Nearly 200 pastors and other ministry leaders have signed on to a letter to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak to ask that he lift his current 10-person limit on in-person church services — “so long as each church develops, implements, and maintains a safety plan that adheres to applicable social distancing and hygiene guidelines.”
“Just like you, we deeply care for the people of the state of Nevada. During this time of crisis, our houses of worship and the people we serve have adapted to the pandemic and [have] taken safety precautions related thereto,” reads the letter sent to the governor on Thursday. “We have restricted our in-person services and [have] done our best to utilize virtual platforms to serve our congregations and our communities.”
“That being said, we have been gravely concerned that the actions you have taken appear to have targeted religious gatherings,” it outlines, noting that religious gatherings have been excluded from the first phase of the state’s gradual reopening plan.
The pastors point to Sisolak’s April 8 stay-at-home order, Emergency Directive 013, which states in one section, “Places of worship shall not hold in-person worship services where 10 or more persons may gather, including without limitation, drive-in and popup services, for the remainder of the Declaration of Emergency.”
“Places of worship may, however, hold worship services via alternative means, including but not limited to, video, streaming or broadcast, provided that any personnel needed to perform tasks related to such do so in a manner that is consistent with social distancing guidelines … ”
The order also advised that the government may use civil or criminal statutes to enforce the regulations.
The pastors state that while Sisolak likely had good intentions in issuing the order, it goes too far as there are less restrictive ways to protect people of faith from contagious diseases.
“We respectfully submit that the restrictions on in-person church services are more burdensome than they need to be in order to accomplish our shared goal of preventing the spread of COVID-19,” the letter reads. “Emergency Directive 013 restricts religious gatherings in a way that is overbroad and not narrowly tailored to accomplish our shared goal of preventing the spread of disease and death.”
The correspondence further argues that it is not fair for restaurants to be allowed to reopen in phase one at 50 percent capacity — with other safety measures in place — while churches are not permitted to do the same.
The pastors contend that as churches in Nevada have created detailed safety plans to keep their members safe, prohibiting in-person services nearly altogether is excessive.
“We believe we are not called to be isolated individuals expressing Christ in the privacy of our homes but a collective city on the hill where Christ is expressed together to one another,” they outline. “[I]t is our sincerely-held religious belief that online and drive-in services do not meet the Lord’s requirement that the Church meet together in person for corporate worship.”
“For this reason, your order violates our First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and freedom of assembly.”
Pointing to Church history and current events, the pastors note that the Body of Christ has been active to help others in need, from caring for the elderly, to assisting the poor, to raising money for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other needed supplies in the medical community, to ministering to the mental, emotional and spiritual needs of health care workers.
“We don’t assume you have approved such restrictive orders regarding church gatherings with a specific animus toward our churches and our vital role in society, but your orders have sent an unfortunate message to us and the people of the state of Nevada that churches and church leaders can’t be trusted to take the steps necessary to protect our congregations and the communities we serve when we are engaged in the work of ministry in our communities,” the letter states.
“Although we acknowledge that there have been bad actors in the community of faith who have not taken their duty to prevent the spread of disease and death, the response of these bad actors should not be to shut down all communities of faith and the essential work we do,” it contends.
The pastors note that the Church has “faithfully shepherded communities through countless plagues” for the past 2,000 years, and therefore, “[t]here is no reason to believe our collective wisdom and experience does not have relevance during this pandemic.”
Signees include Sam Crouch of Calvary Baptist Church in Elko, John Gee of Faith Life Family Church in Las Vegas, Nickolas Emery of Hope Crossing Community Church in Carson City, Ric Fehr of Living Waters Christian Felllowship in Reno, Byron Gomez of Sheep of Christ in Sparks, Larry Webb of Shadow Mountain Church in Gardnerville, James Arthur Moore of Stagecoach Church of God, Jeffrey Ogden of The Village Church in Incline Village, D. Wayne Evans of New Hope Christian Center Assembly of God in Overton, and Duke Taber of Mesquite Worship Center.