Governor Baker Defends Order Closing Churches, Says Worcester Officials Doing Right Thing

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Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker defended his order closing churches and offered support today for Worcester city officials who have ordered a pastor there not to have another regular church service open to the public.

But Baker did not issue any threats against the pastor for violating his executive order and did not criticize him. City officials in Worcester have not said what they would do if the pastor of Adams Square Baptist Church holds another service.

Pastor Kris Casey led a church service Sunday, April 27, in violation of the governor’s executive order of March 23 banning most gatherings of 10 people or more, including “faith-based events.” New Boston Post covered the service.

The next day, Worcester’s city manager sent the pastor a letter stating that the pastor had violated the governor’s order and warning him not to hold another such service while the order is in effect.

Baker this afternoon suggested that a new state government Reopening Committee he is forming might talk with church leaders about how churches in Massachusetts can begin having regular church services again.

Baker addressed the Worcester church situation when he was asked a question about it during a coronavirus press conference on Tuesday, April 28.

A reporter asked:

Governor, are you disappointed by the, ah, minister at the Adams Square Baptist Church in Worcester?  I guess he had a service Sunday. He asked people to wear a mask. He observed social distancing. But you do have this order. And plus, the city sent him a warning about it.

Baker hemmed a bit before answering the question. Then he said:

I think the, ahm – so – I think I speak for both Lieutenant Governor and me when I say that, ahm, denying houses of worship the opportunity to gather and practice their faith would be right up there on our list of things that were very dismaying with respect to putting this order in in the first place.

But, ah – and I spoke in empty houses of worship on a livestream to congregations that were watching at home. And it is a weird thing to do, to be in these big beautiful empty places, speaking into a box that’s smaller than that one, and hoping that somehow that you could create the same sense of community that you get from being in the same place. And I’m sympathetic to that.

But I’m also very sympathetic to the fact that there’s lots of data from around the globe in places where people didn’t put constraints around houses of worship where the virus went all over the place. And from my point of view, ahm, houses of worship are another example of the kind of entity that we expect will engage with this Reopening Committee, and talk to them about how they would go about doing this.

But in the meantime, the order’s in place, and the city of Worcester did the right thing by enforcing it.

Pastor Casey wrote the governor a letter last week stating that he intended to hold the church service this past Sunday, and arguing that Baker’s order violates the guarantees of freedom of religion in the state and federal constitutions. The pastor also questioned why the state is allowing liquor stores to remain open but not churches.

Baker did not address the pastor’s arguments during the press conference Tuesday.