Worcester Officials Throw Down, Tell Pastor Not To Have Another Church Service

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/04/27/worcester-officials-throw-down-tell-pastor-not-to-have-another-church-service/

Worcester officials have formally notified a pastor who held a regular church service Sunday that he violated the governor’s executive order banning most gatherings of 10 people or more.

Worcester City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. sent Adams Square Baptist Church Pastor Kris Casey a letter Monday saying the pastor is putting people’s lives in danger because of coronavirus.

Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty singled out the pastor at the beginning of his coronavirus press conference.

“I’m deeply disappointed and dismayed that Pastor Kristopher Casey chose to violate the orders of the governor and city manager, and chose to endanger his parishioners and our city as a whole by holding services,” Petty said, reading from a statement Monday, April 27. “Across Massachusetts, men and women of faith have chosen to follow the best medical advice of professionals and conduct worship services virtually. This is a time when we all must make the sacrifices for the good of our neighbors.”

Petty looked up from the piece of paper and noted that newspapers in Worcester and Boston have run unusually many death notices in recent days, as coronavirus fatalities have increased.

“I miss going to church myself … but to put the elderly, the most vulnerable, people who could catch Covid-19 because they have underlying issues, I don’t think well serves the community,” Petty said.

The pastor sent Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker a letter last week informing him that he planned to hold the church service Sunday, and he sent copies to the mayor and the city’s chief of police. In the letter Casey argued that the governor’s ban on “faith-based events” of 10 people or more violates the federal and state constitutions, and he questioned how the governor can justify keeping liquor stores open but not churches.

Casey told New Boston Post over the weekend that no officials told him not to go ahead with the service.

Casey took precautions before and during the service, which New Boston Post covered. He had church-goers’ temperature taken at the entrance; provided hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves; advised people to keep social distance; and banned physical contact during the service.

But the city manager said the church can’t hold another such service while the governor’s order is in effect.

Augustus wrote:  “please be advised that you may not conduct any services in the church building with more than 10 people physically in attendance.”

Augustus went on to say that there were 1,806 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Worcester as of April 27. 

“The medical professionals are advising us that we are at the height of the surge in cases,” Augustus wrote. “Hosting gatherings of people in defiance of the governor’s order flies in the face of the best medical advice at this time and increases the very real chance of contact spread of the virus to countless others.”

In the letter, Augustus also said that the governor’s orders are reasonable and do not violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which in part protects religious freedom.

During the service Sunday, however, Pastor Casey linked the church service to religious freedom.

“Our Founding Fathers knew how precious a thing this would be,” Casey said during his sermon Sunday, April 26. “Lord we thank you that we have the ability to worship you in spirit and in truth. Thank you for the protections we have in America that do not exist in other countries around the world.”

When asked about Augustus’s letter Monday night, Pastor Casey told New Boston Post that he would not be speaking about the matter over the next few days, at the advice of his lawyer.

On Sunday, Pastor Casey told New Boston Post that he planned to hold another service on Wednesday night, but Monday night he declined to comment on whether that is still the case.

Earlier in the day, he told the Worcester Telegram and Gazette that it felt good to preach to people who came from all over to listen, including Christians who are not Baptists.

“It’s almost a rally cry,” he said, according to the Telegram & Gazette. “It’s almost people saying, ‘Look, we need to do this and we’re glad you’re doing this and we’re glad you’re taking a stand.’ That wasn’t my intention, that wasn’t my plan. My plan was to say, ’Look, this is the church God has called me to, this is the community in which I need to preach and it doesn’t make sense to preach to pews. I’m supposed to preach to people.’ ”

Currently, restrictions on public gatherings as a result of the coronavirus pandemic are set to last until Monday, May 4. However, it is possible that Governor Baker will extends it. Local officials may also do so for their respective municipalities.

The mayor and city manager’s offices  could not be reached for comment on Monday night.