Federal judge issues order allowing NC churches to hold services indoors

Federal judge issues order allowing NC churches to hold services indoors

RALEIGH, N.C. — Sunday, North Carolina church-goers could legally go back inside their church to worship and pray with others after a federal judge issued a temporary order preventing the state from stopping indoor services.

The order is effective immediately and will last for at least 14 days.

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According to the order, the state and law enforcement cannot take any legal action against churches and those who hold services inside.

The order blocks Gov. Roy Cooper’s restrictions on religious services.

Cooper’s executive order was a part of Phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan, which only allowed indoor services and weddings to be held for gatherings of ten people or fewer.

The order also allowed churches to hold outdoor services while following social distancing guidelines. If services were unable to be held outside or online, people could worship indoors but maintain social distancing.

Statement from North Carolina Governor’s office in response to the federal judge’s order:

“We don’t want indoor meetings to become hotspots for the virus and our health experts continue to warn that large groups sitting together inside for long periods of time are much more likely to cause the spread of COVID-19. While our office disagrees with the decision, we will not appeal, but instead urge houses of worship and their leaders to voluntarily follow public health guidance to keep their members safe."

The governor’s task is to keep people safe during the pandemic and the stay-at-home order has slowed the spread of the virus.

But the first amendment blocks the government from infringing on people’s freedom of religion. As Channel 9 read the federal court ruling, the judge pointed out how this affects everyone in the state.

“The scope of the free exercise violation caused by the assembly for religious worship provisions in Executive Order 138 involves every religious activity in North Carolina where more than 10 people gather indoors to worship ... Accordingly, the court issues a statewide injunction,” the judge said in the order.

Now, the order is a temporary injunction and will be in court next on May 29.

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“It’s not normal for us to hold service in a parking lot. That’s where cars are parked. We don’t put cars in the building and people in the parking lot,” said Winston-Salem Pastor Dr. Ronnie Baity, who argues that Cooper’s order violates religious freedom.

Baity is leading a group called Return America. The group of 200 churches filed a lawsuit to fight Cooper’s order.

Baity said he was relieved to hear the judge’s temporary injunction Saturday, allowing services to gather inside.

“It’s all about the First Amendment. This is something the judge really expressed in his ruling that why is it that 50 people in a funeral home are more safe than 10 people in a church house,” he said.

Although the ruling was in his favor, Baity said he wouldn’t hold service indoors Sunday. He’ll be waiting until the church can put up social distancing and sanitary guidelines in place.

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Channel 9′s Erin Edwards spoke to several local churches to see if any of them would be inviting their congregations inside.

A pastor at Harvest Church in Charlotte said the church would have in-person service Sunday. However, it will also livestream its service for those who aren’t comfortable.

Eight other churches got back to Channel 9 and said they would wait to hold in-person service until it’s safe to have large gatherings again.

“If there ever was a time for the church to be conscious of the decisions their making. The impact of gathering right now, especially under spiritual auspices, I don’t know if that’s the best foot forward right now,” said Pastor Scott Hofert of Watershed Church.

Lawsuit filed to block Gov. Cooper?s order on churches

Shining Light Baptist Church in Monroe held service Sunday morning. The pastor actually traveled to Raleigh this week, supporting the lawsuit to overturn the governor’s order.

Pastor Tim Cruise said he felt it was important to remind leaders of their God-given right to assemble as a church.

One of the members told Channel 9′s DaShawn Brown they are still following the guidelines, even conducting temperature checks.