Eighteen Republican state senators sent a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday, May 8 asking for clarification of the Phase 1 executive order, particularly the portion governing religious services.
The order specifies that if it were “impossible” to hold religious services outside, they could be held inside, and one question the senators asked was a definition of impossible.
Cooper responded to the letter and to that particular question with this: “In situations where it is not possible to conduct worship services outdoors or through other accommodations – such as through, for example, a series of indoor services of 10 or fewer attendees, or through online services – the 10 person attendance limit on indoor worship services does not apply. For example, there may be situations in which particular religious beliefs dictate that some or all of a religious service must be held indoors and that more than 10 persons must be in attendance. While indoors, participants should continue to adhere to the Recommendations to Promote Social Distancing and Reduce Transmissions.”
Cooper’s response also notes that for funerals the limit for worship services is raised from a maximum of 10 people to a maximum of 50 people.
Cooper’s response did not go over well with the Republican senators that signed the letter. Senators Kathy Harrington (R-Gaston) and Carl Ford (R-Rowan) wrote, “Gov. Cooper’s absurd state order is unconstitutional on two grounds: it treats churches differently than commercial establishments and it treats some religions differently than others. It’s plainly unconstitutional.”
The response from Harrington and Ford also states, “Gov. Cooper’s order also has content-based restrictions: The Governor has prevented more than 10 people from meeting in a chapel for a worship service, but he simultaneously allows 50 people to meet in that same chapel in the same pews if the worship service involves a funeral. There is no health and safety distinction between these two gatherings in the same chapel. It is a content-based restriction on the free exercise of religion, and it is unconstitutional.”