NEW YORK — Speaking during his coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he believes it is too soon for large indoor church services to resume as meetings of that magnitude would be “dangerous” right now.
He expressed disagreement with President Trump’s call to immediately reopen churches — if such means “any and all” sizes of gatherings, but the president has not expressly stated so. Rather, Trump simply said that he believes churches should be allowed to open and specifically noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would issue guidelines to assist faith leaders with a safe reopening.
“At my direction, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is issuing guidance for communities of faith,” Trump advised during a briefing on Friday. “Today I’m identifying houses of worship, churches, synagogue and mosques as essential places that provide essential services.”
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right,” he continued. “So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential. I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now.”
The guidelines referenced by Trump, released on Saturday, recommend that churches “[t]ake steps to limit the size of gatherings in accordance with the guidance and directives of state and local authorities and subject to the protections of the First Amendment and any other applicable federal law.”
Nonetheless, de Blasio expressed concern on Tuesday that Trump’s directives might mean the resumption of large gatherings of hundreds or thousands for Sunday services and thus jeopardize churchgoers’ health.
“I have to put on the table a challenging reality,” he said. “On Friday, President Trump made a statement about reopening religious services. And whatever the intention, I think it’s important to speak about it in a forthright manner.”
“Every person of faith would love nothing more but to resume the services that are so important to them. And I’ve talked to some of the most prominent faith leaders in this city [of] multiple faiths,” de Blasio said. “There’s a universal feeling that everyone would love to come back, but there’s a deep understanding of the dangers right now in this crisis.”
He stated that all religions value human life and congregational leaders realize that their job is to protect people, and they therefore agree that it is not time yet to host mass gatherings.
“So, what I’ve heard from faith leaders over these last days is that, yes, they want to come back, but they know that this is not the time,” de Blasio continued. “[T]he idea of people coming back together in full services, large numbers of people congregating, it’s not that time. That would endanger everyone.”
“With all due respect to the president, the president left the impression on Friday that any and all religious services should just start again,” he later claimed in a response to a question from a reporter. “I’m saying very clearly that that is dangerous. It is not time to restart large gatherings of any kind even though we deeply, deeply value faith. The key faith leaders of this city are not saying that it’s time, across the board.”
de Blasio said that he is okay with gatherings of 10 people at this time as the State has recently allowed.
As previously reported, in March, de Blasio warned faith leaders not to open their doors or the New York Police Department (NYPD) and/or other entities would shut the building down — and if there were repeated and willful violations, the facility could be shut down permanently.
“So, I want to say to all those who are preparing the potential of religious services this weekend, if you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services,” he said, adding that it is the “last thing he would like to do” because he understands the importance of faith.
“So, the NYPD, Fire Department, Buildings Department, everyone has been instructed that if they see worship services going on, they will go to the officials of that congregation, they’ll inform them they need to stop the services and disperse. If that does not happen, they will take additional action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently.”
The group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms recently launched an online petition for pastors urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to “prioritize the reopening of churches” in his “New York Forward” plan.
Cuomo’s office, through Executive Order 202.10, had heretofore banned “[n]on-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason,” and a guidance webpage from Empire State Development further outlined that his order included worship services, stating that “[c]ongregate services within houses of worship are prohibited.”
The State now allows up to 10 people to gather for-in person worship, and Gov. Cuomo also noted last week that drive-in services are permissible, according to Syracuse.com. According to the outlet, Cuomo’s Interfaith Advisory Council is working on policies regarding resuming in-person services.
View de Blasio’s remarks at approximately 14 and 56 minutes into the video below.