Special Update Note Calling for Prayer from Dr. Mark Creech
By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
May 15, 2020
Hundreds of Christians gathered in Raleigh Thursday to take a stand for their right to worship freely, with many urging pastors to defy the Governor’s COVID-related executive orders and reopen their churches for in-person, inside services this Sunday.
The hourlong rally, during which Return America President Ron Baity announced that a lawsuit had been filed against Gov. Roy Cooper, was equal parts history lesson, sermon and press conference. The goal for all three was the same: to honor God by supporting His church so that people can come to know Jesus.
“Brother Baity and these churches are not looking for a row, but what we are asking is to have our rights protected,” Attorney David Gibbs, founder and president of the Christian Law Association, told the crowd, assuring them that no one holds animosity toward the governor.
“We are not against this man. We are against this policy. We want to show him honor and respect,” Gibbs said. “And we are not asking to open our churches recklessly. …We have the ability to open our churches safely with higher standards than they are asking anyone else to do. But we have to have the religious freedom to do it.”
Before introducing Gibbs or mentioning the lawsuit, the Rev. Baity set the scene with a look at the church’s role in the history of the United States. Beginning with a vignette about the nation’s first Speaker of the House, Frederick Muhlenberg, Baity bounced back more than a hundred years to talk about the importance of religious freedom to the settlers at Jamestown and then moved forward through U.S. history, from the church service following the inauguration of George Washington as president to the Great Awakening and on to the sermon that sparked President Dwight Eisenhower’s push to add “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s. With each snapshot of history, Baity reminded his audience of the importance of the church.
“Our nation is a better place today because the church is here. If there has ever been a time that our communities need the church, it is now,” Baity said. “People are losing their jobs; people need hope. They need for somebody to stand in front of them and say there is hope. Jesus is still on the throne. We need to be in our positions where we can help the people, lift up the fallen, tell people how to be saved, tell people there’s a heaven and tell people there’s a hell.”
“The church of Jesus Christ is marching on, but all of a sudden we have been told to halt,” Baity said in reference to the Governor’s orders. “And we’ve said, as of today, NO!”
Both Baity and Gibbs described their unsuccessful efforts to reach out to Governor Cooper and to request that churches be granted the same privileges as businesses and other organizations.
“We have worked diligently in the last few weeks to try to talk to our governor. We actually sent him a statement about three weeks ago with the signatures of 200 pastors and churches. And at that particular time we asked him to give us the same freedoms that the business world is experiencing,” Baity explained. “At that time the business world could open up at 20 percent of their occupancy. And we said, Hey, if you can give it to them, we’d like for you to give it to the church. We know that the business world is able to do that. We know that the abortion clinic can do that. We know that the ABC store can do that. We know you’ve been negotiating with NASCAR. Why not negotiate with the largest entity that meets in North Carolina every week, the Church of Jesus Christ?”
Baity said they also promised to enact sanitation rules that were more stringent than CDC recommendations, but have received no response from Cooper.
“We are not here to ask to be able to go back in our church in a slipshod way. We are going to do it right. We love our people. We will protect our people to the best of our ability,” he said. “We are just tired of being told that we don’t have the mentality to do what is best for our people.”
Like the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association and the Association of Chiefs’ of Police as well as the Christian Action League, Gibbs said his firm had asked for a clear explanation of the Governor’s latest order, No. 138, which seems to continue to limit churches to gatherings of fewer than 10 people unless they are outside or unless it is “impossible” to hold service outside. Baity said the ruling is still “foggy.”
“We have asked for clarification. We have asked for this matter to be fixed,” Gibbs said. “If there was ever a time the churches need to be open and functioning and doing what God has called them to do, it is right now.”
Citing the First Amendment, Gibbs reminded the crowd, “Your constitution doesn’t just protect you in believing, it protects you in exercising your beliefs.”
“Now we are asking the court to please give instruction to this governor to immediately open these churches. It is time, it is absolutely time,” he said.
The 18-page complaint, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, is on behalf of Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, Return America, Inc., Dr. Ron Baity and People’s Baptist Church in Greenville. It challenges the Governor’s five COVID-19 related executive orders (#117, 120, 121, 135 and 138) issued between March 14 and May 5 as unconstitutional because they “treat religious gatherings less favorably than similar secular gatherings, virtually banning religious assembly.” The suit further asserts that the orders “are not narrowly tailored and do not permit less restrictive means to achieve the government’s interest without burdening Plaintiffs’ rights as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.”
Baity leads Berean Baptist. Tim Butler is senior pastor at People’s Baptist. According to the lawsuit, both churches consider Scripture verses such as Hebrews 10:25, Romans 10:17, Acts 2:4 and 38; and Ephesians 5:25-26 as commands for the body of Christ to assemble.
In addition to challenging the five executive orders, both on their face and as they have been applied, the lawsuit also points out legal problems with Cooper’s attempt to clarify the most recent one, which was supposed to signal a loosening of the rules as the state entered Phase One of reopening. His office’s explanation of how to determine whether holding a service outside was “impossible” or not referenced “particular religious beliefs” that “dictate that some or all of a religious service must be held indoors and that more than ten persons must be in attendance.”
The complaint asserts that “Defendant’s Office’s interpretation of EO 138 has made the right to gather inside for religious worship dependent upon the religious beliefs of the gathering participant, not upon age, or health, or criminal background, or weight, but on holding an approved religious belief; if the participant does not hold the State’s established religious belief, he must gather for worship outside or inside with nine people or less.”
The suit, in its entirety, can be viewed here.
Neither Baity nor Gibbs delved into the particulars of the legal filing at the rally. Instead, Gibbs reminded those in attendance to first pray, to support Return America and to speak up, writing their lawmakers about the importance of religious freedom.
“We have freedom. But if we don’t stand up and fight for our freedoms, our freedoms will be short-lived,” Baity said.
Important Update Note from Executive Director:
|Late last night, Return America learned their case for a restraining order against Cooper’s executive order prohibiting indoor worship services of no more than ten people would be heard before a federal judge today. Ron Baity, President of Return America and a good friend of the Christian Action League, phoned me about the proceedings at around 4:45 on Friday. Baity said he could not know in what manner the judge would rule, but he was cautiously optimistic a victory would be announced by this evening, possibly tomorrow or Monday. This is a time for earnest prayer. Let us pray the judge hearing this case will protect the First Amendment rights of our churches.|
-Dr. Mark Creech