Christian Action League
May 11, 2020
Monday, May 11th, Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, sent the following letter to Governor Roy Cooper.
North Carolina Office of the Governor
20301 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-0301
Dear Governor Cooper,
The Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. represents thousands of conservative evangelical churches across the Tar Heel state. On their behalf, I write to thank you for your efforts to protect the health and welfare of our state’s citizens during the COVID 19 pandemic. We know that you bear a hefty burden, and we are genuinely praying for you.
Nonetheless, we are troubled by the values statement your executive orders, especially the latest, have made regarding churches: Churches and what they provide for society is not as important as business.
For instance, in Subsection 6(A) of your latest executive order, mass gatherings of more than ten people are prohibited, but the prohibition does not apply to worship services. However, in Subsection 6(C), we’re told: “Because the risk of COVID 19 spread is much greater in an indoor setting, any gatherings of more than ten (10) people that are allowed under Subsection 6(A) shall take place outdoors unless impossible.” Then Subsection 6(E) says that churches that want to have drive-in services may do so “if the participants all stay within their cars.”
Quite frankly, the order is remarkably confusing. How is any pastor or other church leader supposed to interpret the actual meaning of it? It leaves the churches having to hazard a guess about the way to carry on. Furthermore, it singles out churches for different treatment. If businesses are permitted to currently open their doors to 50 percent capacity when implementing social distancing and other health precautions, why can’t churches be trusted to do likewise?
Our friends from Liberty Counsel, a Christian law organization which addresses legal issues that are of grave importance to evangelical Christians, notes:
“The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof… .’ U.S. Const. Amend. I. That prohibition is also applicable to state and local government authorities. In short, churches, pastors, and believers have a constitutionally protected right to gather together to worship God and to do so without government interference. Even in a time of crisis or disease, see Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905), the First Amendment does not evaporate. The First Amendment is as applicable during a pandemic, or any other crisis, as it is every other day. There is no pause button on the Constitution. The government interest is weighed against the indisputable First Amendment right, and any restriction on that right must be the least restrictive, which, in the case of the COVID-19 restrictions, means at a minimum that the restrictions on religious gatherings cannot be stricter than on secular gatherings.
“The prohibition on religious assembly and church worship services under various government’s COVID-19 closure orders have been challenged as a violation of the First Amendment. In two of these cases, the federal district courts have stated unequivocally that the government has no right to close churches, even in times of a so-called pandemic. See, e.g., On Fire Christian Center, Inc. v. Fischer, No. 3:20-CV-264-JRW, 2020 WL 1820249 (W.D. Ky. Apr. 11, 2020) (“On Fire”); First Baptist Church v. Kelly, No. 20-1102-JWB, 2020 WL 1910021 (D. Kan. Apr. 18, 2020) (“First Baptist”). A copy of the court opinions in On Fire may be found at http://lc.org/042920OnFireOpinion.pdf, and in First Baptist may be found at http://lc.org/042920FirstBaptistTRO.pdf. Both of these cases recognize that – even during COVID-19 – the government may not prohibit churches from hosting drive-in and parking lot worship services (On Fire) and may not prohibit churches from hosting in-person worship services on equal terms with other businesses and organizations that are permitted to remain open provided certain guidelines are practiced (First Baptist).”
It’s a mistake to minimize the importance of congregates physically meeting together for worship. The Scriptures admonish believers not to forsake assembling (Hebrews 10:25). Even the Greek word for church is “ekklesia,” which means “assembly.” It is not a suggestion but a command for us.
Forgive my folksy illustration, but I think it adequately makes the point. When I was a pastor (20-year tenure), after inviting a prospective member to the church, sometimes the person would say, “Well, pastor, I believe I can worship just as well by watching a service on television or hearing a minister preach on the radio.” I would respond, “Going to church by radio or television is a lot like trying to kiss your girlfriend over the telephone. It’s just not the same.” And it’s no different trying to worship online either, which is something to which many churches have now been forced to resort. If it was that simple, then why would churches even bother folk about coming to church? These are insufficient substitutes for authentic worship, nor would any responsible church leader recommend them, except in cases when there was no other choice.
But even in the case of COVID 19, a severe health pandemic, there is a choice. It’s just that you won’t let God’s people go. Businesses can go, but the churches can’t go in like manner. That’s not only unconstitutional; it’s also morally wrong – a slight on the importance of the church and the integrity of its citizenship.
Governor, let God’s people go.
We appreciate that there is now the opportunity to hold worship services outside as long as the conditions are not “impossible.” But what defines “impossible”? Better still, who gets to decide what’s “impossible”? I suggest the order itself is “impossible.” What is more, our churches have every right to meet inside in the same manner businesses are allowed to do business inside.
Therefore, the Christian Action League of North Carolina makes the following reasonable request and declaration:
- Please clarify your executive order in a manner that does not single out churches for different treatment by Friday, May 22nd.
- If you do not respond sufficiently within the allotted time, then the Christian Action League is 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.
You must know that we are a patient people, a compliant and law-abiding people, and this letter and its contents are not written in a spirit of defiance of your authority. However, the sacred right to worship whenever and wherever we choose existed long before government. It is an inalienable right, a God-given right, and supersedes any dictates the government may issue, even your own executive orders. Such rights are protected by the U.S. Constitution and the constitution of the state of North Carolina. Various federal and state laws also protect these rights.
Governor, let God’s people go. We can do this. We can arrange our worship services indoors and also take precautions to protect people’s health as sufficiently, perhaps even better than any business.
Thank you for your consideration.
Rev. Mark H. Creech
Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.