Churches in North Carolina are no longer under the governor’s orders to remain limited to 10 people when they meet inside the building. A federal court ruled that the restrictions violate the U.S. Constitution.
Governor Roy Cooper, like other state and local elected officials, issued orders either barring in-person church gatherings altogether during the COVID-19 crises or limited the number of congregants inside the building. Churches in North Carolina filed a lawsuit to stop enforcement actions.
The Washington Times reported that Judge James C. Dever III of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina issued a statewide injunction against Gov. Cooper’s orders as applied to churches. An excerpt: (emphasis added):
Dever agreed with the plaintiffs, who argued that the limits violate their rights to worship freely and treat churches differently from retailers and other secular activities.
Dever said he does not doubt that Cooper “is acting in good faith” to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus but the restrictions applied to one group and not another do little to help the goal and burden religious freedom. He said people’s “instinct for self-survival is strong” and trusts that worshippers and their leaders will look after each other “while exercising their free rights” just as they do during nonreligious activities.”
The churches that filed the lawsuit said the governor’s orders treat religious and secular gatherings differently. Religious freedom cases are decided under a strict scrutiny basis. Freedom of religion is a fundamental constitutional right. Courts review government actions and laws to determine whether there’s a compelling governmental interest to justify such actions and laws, whether they’re narrowly tailored to achieve that end, and whether they’re the least restrictive means to do so.
Judge Dever contended that Gov. Cooper seemed to “trust citizens to perform non-religious activities indoors (such as shopping or working or selling merchandise) but does not trust them to do the same when they worship indoors together.”
Some churches are pushing back against restrictive government orders. For example, over 500 pastors in California said they will resume in-person services on May 31, regardless of what Governor Gavin Newsom says. These are the patriots of 2019, calling loudly for other believers to affirm them.
Meanwhile, a group of pastors in Northern Virginia asked the governor to modify his two executive orders to allow them to hold in-person church services. Other churches have filed lawsuits.