Dedham Pastor Fighting Board of Health Cease-and-Desist Order Against Church Services

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Pastor Nick White and Victory Baptist Church in Dedham now have help from a national organization in their fight to hold in-person church services.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian conservative legal interest group based in Arizona, sent Dedham town officials a letter on Wednesday demanding that they rescind the cease-and-desist letter they sent Victory Baptist Church last week.

The Dedham Board of Health emailed a letter to Pastor White on Wednesday, May 6 ordering him not to re-open his church after he announced plans to hold two services Sunday, May 10 – each with no more than 10 people, which is the limit set by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s March 23 executive order limiting most gatherings.

Pastor White also said he intended to take health precautions at the church, including checking temperatures at the door, requiring masks and gloves, enforcing social distancing, and sanitizing the church between services.

The board of health’s order, which is not signed, makes reference to the governor’s executive order but does not quote from it.

White maintains that his plans comply with the governor’s order because of the limit he set, and he initially intended to go ahead. But he later cancelled the services at the request of the owner of the building, who did not want the church to buck the cease-and-desist order.

The sharply worded letter from Alliance Defending Freedom dated Wednesday, May 13 accuses town officials of trampling on the church’s rights.

“Not only did Victory Baptist express its intent to fully honor the Executive Order, it imposed conditions on itself well beyond those required under the Executive Order for any 10-person gathering, whether secular or religious,” wrote Ryan J. Tucker, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, on behalf of the church. “… Victory Baptist’s express intent to limit the size of its worship services to comply with the Executive Order – along with self-imposing conditions that the Executive Order does not even require – make clear the Order issued by the Board is nothing more than an attempt to target this church.”

Tucker added that it is “incumbent on the government to know the law sufficiently to refrain from unlawfully harassing its citizens.”

Dedham assistant town manager Nancy Baker, contacted by New Boston Post on Wednesday, referred questions to town counsel Lauren Goldberg, who declined comment.

Pastor White says he plans to hold services on Sunday, May 17, though he’s not sure where.