Worcester Pastor’s Lawyers Call On Massachusetts Governor To Open Churches This Weekend

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/05/08/worcester-pastors-lawyers-call-on-massachusetts-governor-to-open-churches-this-weekend/

Lawyers for a Worcester pastor at the center of the conflict over church closures are calling on Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to lift the ban on religious services for more than 10 people before Sunday.

Pastor Kris Casey’s lawyers sent a letter to the governor late Friday afternoon.

“We are calling on you to immediately confirm that churches in the State of Massachusetts are essential and can open while exercising social distancing and enhanced sanitation,” states the letter, dated Friday, May 8 and signed by David C. Gibbs Jr., of Gibbs & Associates Law Firm, and founder and president of the Christian Law Association, of Mason, Ohio, which advises and represents Christian churches.

The letter asks the governor for an immediate response so that Casey can make plans for his Adams Square Baptist Church this coming weekend. Casey has said he plans to hold a church service at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 10 that is open to more than 10 people.

A spokesman for the governor could not immediately be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.

Governor Baker on March 23 issued an executive order limiting public gatherings to 10, including what the order calls “faith-based” events. The governor has argued the order is necessary in order to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The pastor’s lawyers’ letter argues that the governor’s executive order violates the state and federal constitutions and runs against the tenor of U.S. Supreme Court decisions upholding the free exercise of religion.

“Prohibiting religious worship services for more than 10 people is not a legitimate governmental interest,” the letter states. “… This disfavored treatment of churches should be addressed post haste.”

The letter does not mention or threaten legal action.

Casey also sent the governor a personal letter Friday, saying that he and his wife are praying for Baker and respect his authority, but that the pastor must lead his flock as he sees best.

“I am asking you, once again, to allow us the right to assemble and worship our Lord and Savior in the way set forth through the authority of Scriptures without government interference,” Casey wrote. “… My authority to pastor this church comes directly from God, and I must follow the Lord’s leading regarding this church and how we move forward.”

A directive from the state associated with the governor’s order limiting gatherings says a first offense may draw a warning, a second offense may draw a civil penalty of up to $300, and subsequent offenses may draw criminal penalties, including a fine of up to $500 and imprisonment.

Pastor Casey conducted services for more than 40 people on Sunday, April 26; Sunday, May 3; and Wednesday, May 6. He had temperatures of participants checked before the services, enforced social distancing, and prohibited physical contact during those services. This past week he required church-goers to wear masks and gloves. He also has told New Boston Post the church has spent several thousand dollars on professional cleanings by a cleaning service before church services.

The city of Worcester issued him a citation for a $300 civil penalty on Monday, May 4 for the service the previous day. Worcester’s city manager, Edward M. Augustus Jr., said Thursday, May 7 that Worcester police have filed an application for a criminal complaint in district court seeking a $500 fine for the service the night before.

Those actions set up a possible showdown this weekend. If Pastor Casey holds a another comparable service on Sunday, May 10, city officials may consider it a fourth offense.

City officials have not said publicly what they plan to do. But the city manager yesterday made a reference to the ascending ladder of penalties in the governor’s executive order.

“And so we continue to monitor the situation and we’re following the measures that are outlined in the governor’s order, as to actions that could be taken for each successive violation,” Augustus said during a press conference Thursday, May 7. “So we are following that scrupulously, and that action was taken today in response to the violation last night.”

Images of the letters to Governor Baker from Casey’s lawyers and from Casey are below: