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

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — About 200 Church leaders formed Return America and sued North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper Thursday demanding restrictions be lifted on indoor religious services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They argue the limits initiated by Cooper with health in mind violate their right to worship freely.

Two Baptist churches, a minister and a Christian revival group filed the federal lawsuit to block enforcement of rules covering religious services.

The group held a rally outside the legislative building in Raleigh Thursday afternoon aimed at moving church worship from parking lots back into churches.

The rally coincides with the lawsuit that Return America filed to overturn the Governor’s order, which restricts gatherings of 10 or more people to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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Pastor Tim Cruse, of Monroe, said that the order infringes on the right of freedom of religion so he is in support of those suing the governor.

“We need to stand up and just remind our leaders that we have a God-given right to assemble as a local church,” Cruse said.

He said the drive-up worship and virtual service doesn't accomplish what he was ordained to do.

"You can't really make a difference at a distance in someone's life," Cruse said.

Return America said they want is the same rights granted to retail stores.

Shopping is allowed with restrictions, but health experts said sitting for more than 10 minutes indoors creates a high risk for the spread of COVID-19.

Return America said this movement is for all churches, but not all pastors agree.

"It's not a call to fight each other. This is foolish," said Pastor Melvin Clark, Washington Missionary Baptist Church.

Clark, of Cleveland County, said there is no need to rush to reopen churches when there is no way to know who has the disease and no known cure for those infected.

“How do we care for those that God has instructed us to protect their life?” Clark said.

Cooper responded to the suit saying his order was written to respect First Amendment rights, and he reiterated the dangers of holding services indoors.

According to a legal expert, the Governor’s Office may have as little as four days to respond to the lawsuits, and he may have to produce hard facts, number and data to back up why the order should remain in place.

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