A front page article in the Sunday, Oct. 11 News & Record is completely misleading.
It’s not the policy of the Rhino Times to run corrections for the News & Record, but this article is so factually inaccurate that it seems wrong to let it stand uncorrected.
The article, “Salvation vs. Science: Open Houses of worship: Now that churches can have more people, will they?” by staff writer Nancy McLaughlin is factually incorrect in what it states about the COVID-19 restrictions regarding worship services. One hopes that neither McLaughlin nor her editors bothered to read Executive Order 169 from NC Gov. Roy Cooper because, if they read it, then the purpose of the article is to mislead their readers.
The article states, “Now, after months of uncertainty, houses of worship statewide are allowed to have more parishioners – but with restrictions.”
There is no difference “now” in the restrictions on worship services.
There are no restrictions.
There have not been any restrictions since May 16 when US District Court Judge James Dever issued a temporary restraining order and stated in no uncertain terms that Cooper did not have the authority to overrule the First Amendment. In that order Dever states, “There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution of the United States or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”
Cooper got the message. The state did not appeal the ruling and beginning with Executive Order 141, issued by Cooper on May 20, 2020, this (or similar) language was included in executive orders that involve restrictions on mass gatherings.
“Worship, religious, and spiritual gatherings, funeral ceremonies, wedding ceremonies, and other activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment rights are exempt from all the requirements of this Executive Order …”
So church services have been exempt from Cooper’s executive orders since May 20. Because of the ruling in federal court that means that since May 16 it has been up to the churches and their denominations to decide how they chose to worship with no special pandemic restrictions placed on them by the state at all.
The article also states, “Under the state’s newest guidelines, houses of worship must limit gatherings to the lesser of 30% occupancy or 100 people.”
This is completely false. Executive Order 169 issued by Cooper on Sept. 30, which is titled “Restrictions to Protect Lives During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Phase 3” states,
“Worship, religious, and spiritual gatherings, funeral ceremonies, wedding ceremonies, and other activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment rights are exempt from all the requirements of this Executive Order, notwithstanding any other provision of this Executive Order.”
Cooper could hardly be more clear than “exempt from all the requirements” and that of course would include the limits on mass gatherings.
This exemption also allows “peaceful protests” no matter how large to lawfully assemble, but evidently that information had not reached the News & Record until now.