Worcester Pastor’s Letter To Massachusetts Governor: We’re Having Church

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/04/26/worcester-pastors-letter-to-massachusetts-governor-were-having-church/

[Editor’s Note:  Pastor Kris Casey posted an open letter to Governor Charlie Baker on the Facebook page of Adams Square Baptist Church in Worcester, Massachusetts on Thursday, April 23, 2020.  In it he informs the governor of his intention to hold a church service inside the church building on Sunday, April 26.  He says he sent copies of the letter to the governor and the mayor and chief of police of Worcester.  The text follows.]


Copy of the letter sent to the Governor of Massachusetts, Mayor of Worcester, and Chief of Police of Worcester.April…

Posted by Adams Square Baptist Church on Thursday, April 23, 2020


Copy of the letter sent to the Governor of Massachusetts, Mayor of Worcester, and Chief of Police of Worcester.

April 22, 2020

Dear Governor Baker,

I am writing to inform you that, after much research, consultation and prayer, I have made the decision to resume gathering as a church for corporate worship. This coming Sunday, April 26th, we will hold a morning worship service in our church sanctuary located at 266 Lincoln Street in Worcester. We will also gather at the same location on Wednesday evenings for our midweek service. My congregation and I will observe the appropriate social distancing precautions, consistent with guidance from the CDC.
I am fully aware of Governor Baker’s March 23, 2020 Order on Essential Services and its Extension to May 4, 2020 (the “Order”). The Order provides that:
(1) “Churches, temples, and mosques, and other places of worship shall not be required to close their brick and mortar premises to workers or the public; provided, however, that such institutions shall be required to comply with all limitations on gatherings established in section 3 below.”;
(2) at section 3: “Gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited throughout the Commonwealth … includ[ing], without limitation, faith-based … events … and any similar event or activity that brings together more than 10 persons in any confined indoor or outdoor space”; and
(3) the “COVID-19 Essential Services” list includes “Workers at places of worship” under the general category of “Other Community – Education – or Government-Based Operations and Essential Services.”
As I understand these provisions, the first one does not require my church to close during the COVID-19 crisis, and the third designates me as a “worker at a place of worship” and therefore as a “COVID-19 Essential Service,” but the second one prohibits 10 or more worshippers from joining me at my church in a faith-based event. Thus, it appears that the effect of these three provisions is that I and a few other paid church employees may attend a Sunday morning worship service at my church, but that my church congregation of averaging 100 most weeks even if they observe all social distancing protocols, may not.

Without at present belaboring the point, I notice that “liquor stores” and “garden centers,” for example, are designated under Exhibit A of the Order as COVID-19 Essential Services, but that religious services of 10 or more people are not. In fact, it would seem that religious services are the only essential function whose core activity – association for the purpose of worship – has been basically eliminated. Such a shut-down of religious services violates clear Constitutional rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments. Also, as you may be aware, lawsuits by churches have in past days been successful in Federal Courts in Kentucky and Kansas on precisely this issue. These have caught the attention of the Department of Justice, with US Attorney General William Barr stating recently, in light of another lawsuit file by a church in Mississippi seeking to resume services in a modified fashion, “the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers. Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity.”

Furthermore, the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act contains strong penalties for those who would deprive a person of their civil rights. It is my hope and prayer that no government official would take action against the peaceable assembly of believers for corporate worship. Please be advised that any interference by you or your agents, including duly appointed police officers acting at your direction or otherwise under color of law, will be a violation of the First & 14th Amendments, Article 2 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, the US Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 USC §§ 2000bb, and the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, G.L. c. 12, § 11I.

Under the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Declaration of Rights, first enacted in 1780 and continuously maintained thereafter: “It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly, and at stated seasons to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. And no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience.” Such religious rights are enforceable by Courts of the United States and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Courts are empowered to enjoin and prohibit any acts constituting threats, intimidation, or coercion to prevent the exercise of duly protected civil rights including religious rights. They are also empowered to award to those whose religious rights are interfered with full damages and an award of attorney’s fees. Krupien v. Ritcey, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 131 (2018). No immunity, qualified or otherwise, shall exist to insulate any governmental official, agent, or person acting under color of law for any such interference and from any such liability. Id.

Please keep in mind that my congregation and I will carefully observe all social distancing requirements, including keeping worshippers six feet apart at all times (although we may allow families to sit together). We will be taking precautionary measures by taking the temperature of all attendees prior to entry into the building as well as to provide them with hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves for the duration of the service, consistent with guidance from the CDC.

A copy of this letter has been sent to Mayor Petty of Worcester and Worcester Chief of Police Steve Sargent. If you have any further questions or comments, you may reach me at any time on my cell phone at (508)——-

Respectfully yours,

Pastor Kris Casey