By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
May 16, 2020
Federal Judge James C. Dever III in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina Eastern Division granted a restraining order today, blocking Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order, which places strict limits on indoor church gatherings.
The plaintiffs in the case, Berean Baptist Church, Return America, Inc., Dr. Ron Baity, and People’s Baptist Church, Inc., objected to Cooper’s order saying it treated “religious gatherings less favorably than similar secular gatherings.” The complaint added that it virtually banned religious assembly, was not “narrowly tailored,” and didn’t “permit less restrictive means to achieve the government’s interest without burdening the Plaintiffs’ rights as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.”
Ron Baity, president of Return America, sent out a bulletin Saturday afternoon announcing the victory:
“God is so good! A stay has been put in place. This means that churches may go back to their houses of worship until the actual case is heard on May 29 at 10:00 a.m. We are thankful that the constitution is being protected. We are hopeful that the Governor will immediately correct his Executive Orders to align themselves with this stay. We are thankful that this stay is statewide so that all churches are protected for a minimum of two weeks until the actual court case will be heard.”
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said that Baity phoned him on Friday afternoon as a gesture of kindness to keep him informed.
Rev. Creech said, “Maybe I can talk at length about what Baity shared with me at some other time. I think the supporters of the Christian Action League will want to hear about the thrilling things that took place in that courtroom. From what Baity said, the judge was hard on the state’s lawyers.”
Baity’s comments to Rev. Creech were also reflected in a series of tweets by WNCN reporter Michael Hyland, who covered the hearing.
Hyland said Judge Dever peppered the state’s legal team about the Governor’s inconsistencies concerning the limits on church gatherings versus secular gatherings.
“Just got out of federal court hearing on the case involving church leaders challenging @NC_Governor exec orders. Judge James Dever III asked, “Why doesn’t the governor trust the leaders and members of religious entities in the same way he trusts, seemingly, everyone else?” 2:37 PM
“The judge repeatedly brought up the example of people working side by side at places like UPS and Amazon but not being allowed to gather for worship on the weekend.” 2:38 PM
“He also brought up the provision that allows for 50 people to attend a funeral service but still caps indoor religious services at 10. ‘What’s the difference?’ he asked. 2:40PM
“He questioned a line in the most recent executive order that says services ‘shall take place outdoors unless impossible.’ Dever sought clarification on what ‘impossible’ means and ultimately who has to determine that?” 2:44 PM
“I don’t question the good faith of anyone. I don’t question the good faith of the governor. I don’t question the good faith of the plaintiffs,” Judge Dever said.” 2:44 PM
“The plaintiffs are seeking a temporary restraining order. Even though specific churches are named as parties in the lawsuit, they told the judge they want his decision to apply statewide.” 2:46 PM
In a letter on behalf of the Christian Action League that was sent to Governor Cooper on Monday, May 11th, Rev. Creech complained about the way his executive order wasn’t treating churches fairly.
Rev. Creech urged the Governor to clarify his executive order in a “manner that does not single out churches for different treatment by Friday, May 22nd. He then added if the Governor didn’t respond sufficiently within the allotted time, the Christian Action League was prepared “to call on its churches to organize for mass civil disobedience and reopen responsibly, exercising the same privileges, no more and no less, than what is currently afforded to businesses.”
Upon hearing about Judge Dever’s decision to grant a temporary stay today, Rev. Creech said he was glad nothing as drastic as a call for civil disobedience would be needed for now.
“No serious Christian wants to create offenses! No serious Christian believes a spirit of defiance serves well the cause of Christ! But there are times when God calls upon believers to stand and be counted. To say as the prophets of old did to heads of state in their day, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’” said Rev. Creech. “There are times when the church should resist injustice. And that’s what Dr. Ron Baity, Return America, and the other plaintiffs have been doing, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude for this win in court.”
Judge Dever’s order reads, “The court trusts worshipers and their leaders to look after one another and society while exercising their free exercise rights just as they and their fellow citizens (whether religious or not) do when engaged in non-religious activities.”
Cooper’s office says that they do not agree with Judge Dever’s decision, but will not appeal.
For Churches Choosing to Reopen
For churches that choose to reopen, here’s what one church in Eastern North Carolina has said that they plan to do:
- Their building will be cleaned and disinfected.
- Mask and gloves will be provided for those desiring to use them (People can also bring their own.)
- Attendees will be encouraged to wash their hands before entering. A small sanitation station will also be provided at the door.
- Attendees will be encouraged to observe social distancing, and the church will seek to follow as carefully as possible the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control. Families will be allowed to sit together during worship services, and all ages will need to be together in the main service.
- Attendees will be encouraged to sit on the odd-numbered pews 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, etc., starting from the front of the church sanctuary. Even-numbered pews will be skipped.
- Attendees will be allowed to enter the building by one door only and exit another door only.
- If an attendee is sick or has a compromised immune system, they are encouraged to stay home.
- If a prospective attendee is elderly, they should consult their family and make attendance a family decision, if possible.
These are just some of the ways that one church plans to reopen following health protocols.
For even more extensive information on how to reopen the church during COVID-19, check out the information provided by Liberty Counsel.
Liberty Counsel is currently spearheading the project, ReOpenChurch.org. See LC’s: Church Coronavirus Safety Measures – Suggested worship options and safety precautions.