ALBANY, N.Y. (Christian News Network) — A letter campaign for pastors in New York state has been launched to collectively ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo to “prioritize the reopening of churches” amid his “New York Forward” plan. According to reports, while the State is considering allowing small in-person religious gatherings, larger churches will be permitted to resume indoor services during phase four, the very last stage of the plan, which includes a resumption of arts and entertainment “mass gatherings.”
“Since your March 23 Executive Order No. 10 was issued, the overwhelming majority of New York churches temporarily suspended in-person worship services,” the letter, released by New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, reads. “Nevertheless, we strenuously disagree with the assertion that worship services are anything other than ‘essential.'”
“All New Yorkers, and all Americans, have a God-given right-recognized in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution-to the free exercise of religion. Christians also have a responsibility to meet with other believers regularly (Hebrews 10:24-25),” it states. “While we respect the authority of government, we must ultimately answer to a much higher authority.”
As previously reported, Executive Order 202.10 states that “[n]on-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.”
A guidance webpage from Empire State Development outlines that, in relation to religious gatherings, in-person church gatherings “of any size,” including house church meetings, are “canceled or postponed.”
“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,” the page reads. “Congregate services within houses of worship are prohibited.”
“Further, individuals should not gather in houses of worship, homes, or other locations for religious services until the end of this public health emergency,” it states.
But New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms believes that the restriction is excessive, especially the prohibition on house church meetings, which by definition are small gatherings that involve participation by friends and extended family outside the immediate household.
Now it is calling for Cuomo to allow churches to reopen, especially in counties where there have been fewer than 10 COVID deaths and less than 100 cases. The Christian organization is asking pastors in the state to sign its letter to the governor requesting the resumption of in-person meetings — with safety measures in place.
“If it is safe to hold a press conference at which attendees practice social distancing, why is it not safe to hold a church service at which congregants practice social distancing?” the letter asks. “If it is safe to allow grocery stores and liquor stores to remain open so long as social distancing is practiced and masks and gloves are worn, why is it deemed unsafe for churches to do the same?”
“With respect to counties that have been hit harder by COVID-19, we believe that churches and other houses of worship should re-open no later than Phase Two of your four-phase plan,” it opines. “If it is safe to re-open retail establishments in a given region, it is safe to re-open churches in that region as well.”
Phase Two depends on the success of Phase One and may be approved for early June at the earliest.
While Cuomo’s “New York Forward” plan does not specifically mention churches, according to Syracuse.com, New York Budget Director Robert Mujica outlined on Monday that the state is considering whether to allow small church gatherings, but larger services will be the last to resume.
“Houses of worship, as if you were to just open them up regularly, with new guidelines, would fall in the last stage,” Mujica advised. “That’s a mass gathering. The same thing with a stadium; the same thing with any situation where you have a lot of people together.”
If you are a pastor in New York state and would like to sign the letter to Gov. Cuomo, please click here.
If you are a resident of New York but not a pastor, please click here.