Mask mandate now in effect for places of worship across Meck County

CHARLOTTE — A mask mandate went into effect Wednesday for places of worship across Mecklenburg County. The county’s mask rule excluded churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship until now.

When Channel 9 checked with some local churches earlier this month, they said they were already requiring masks indoors. For those who didn’t, they’re now required to by the county.

The mandate requires masks to be worn indoors for all religious services.

When the mandate was announced earlier this month, Freedom House Church Pastor Penny Maxwell posted on social media that their church would not be following the mandate and that their lawyers were ready.

“We are not going to tell people, ‘You’ll have to worship with your mouth and face covered up,’” she said.

In a letter to Channel 9, a spokesperson said masks will remain optional but did not say if they will pursue legal action.

The county has a clause that states that if the county loses a lawsuit over part of the mandate, the entire mandate wouldn’t be thrown out, just the parts relevant to the suit.

James Howell, the Senior Pastor at Myers Park Methodist Church in Charlotte, told Channel 9 the mask rule won’t change much for his congregation.

“When the pandemic descended, we were totally virtual for months, and then we came back in person – masked,” he said. “It’s an abundance of caution, of course.”

Many churches said they were prioritizing safety. At Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, leaders told Channel 9 they’re postponing any in-person services until COVID cases decline. And even then, the church will require masks -- regardless of a mandate.

On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper said he plans to reach out to all faith leaders across the state to ask them to encourage church members to get the vaccine, and to fight the spread of misinformation.

“Faith leaders from all religious backgrounds can be trusted figures in their communities,” Cooper said. “Their work can go a long way in encouraging people in their congregations to talk with doctors and understand that these vaccines are safe and effective.”

Howell said following the mandate is part of the job.

“We should be good citizens. We’re not smarter than anybody else,” he said.

This mask mandate is an extension of the requirement already in place in Mecklenburg County for businesses and other buildings.

County health officials said the masking rules can be loosened once the COVID-19 positivity rate drops to 5% for 30 days.

As of Tuesday, CMPD told Channel 9 no one has gotten into legal trouble over any violations of the mandate. They sent Channel 9 the following statement:

“The CMPD will work to reach voluntary cooperation with each member of the community through education and conversations. Our efforts will be prompted through a complaint-driven approach. This has been the CMPD’s approach to consistent enforcement of the mandate, and it will remain so until the mandate is rescinded. It’s encouraging to note that CMPD received a tremendous level of cooperation from the community through the earlier mandates, and we’re very grateful for the unified efforts during that time.”

(WATCH BELOW: ‘We should protect people’: Meck County to mandate masks for religious ceremonies)