Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia signed an executive order in March to ban gatherings of more than 10 people and a second (DOC) that specifically targets church services during the COVID-19 crisis. (“All public and private in-person gatherings of more than ten individuals are prohibited. This includes parties, celebrations, religious, or other social events, whether they occur indoor or outdoor.”)
The governor also closed down indoor gun ranges, which he said falls into the recreation and entertainment category.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in support of the Lighthouse Fellowship Church in Chincoteague Island in Virginia. That church held a service for 16 people sitting six feet apart in a sanctuary with 225 seats. The government issued the church a criminal citation. The church sued.
Pastors in Northern Virginia have sent the governor a message. One hundred and seventy-two of them signed a petition asking the governor to modify both executive orders to allow them to hold weekly in-person church services. From the Daily Signal:
The second order says it is slated to “remain in full force and in effect until June 10, 2020, unless amended or rescinded by further executive order.”
The aim of the pastors’ letter is for churches to “have the freedom to be able to wisely gather again,” David Schrock, pastor for preaching and theology at Occoquan Bible Church in Woodbridge, Virginia, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview Wednesday.
On Monday, the same day the pastors emailed their petition to Northam, the governor said during a press conference that Virginia might begin to reopen businesses as early as next week as a part of a three-phase plan.
From the letter written by Pastor Michael Law Jr., senior pastor of Arlington Baptist Church:
“The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a hospital for the spiritually sick. Yet corporate worship services of more than 10 people have been banned in Virginia since March 23, regardless of the public-health protocols in place and notwithstanding that groups are permitted to gather in settings such as non-retail offices and ‘essential’ retail businesses. Prohibiting corporate worship services has exacerbated the sense of sorrow, isolation, and fear felt by so many citizens across the Commonwealth.
“Because corporate worship is central to Christian life, it is extraordinary for churches to forego meeting for even a single Sunday. Thus, with each passing week that corporate worship is banned, the government pushes Christians closer to the point where they must choose to sin against God and conscience or violate the law.”