Three Republican state senators questioned the restrictions in the stay-at-home orders on churches compared to commercial establishments.
On Thursday, April 16, state Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke), Sen. Danny Britt (R-Robeson) and Sen. Jim Perry (R-Lenoir) sent out a joint press release blasting government restrictions that allow retail stores to operate at limited capacity while prohibiting churches from operating under those same restrictions.
The release notes that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order permits businesses to allow shoppers inside provided the number does not exceed 20 percent of the fire code capacity. However, churches are only allowed to have 10 people inside regardless of the size of the building.
Daniel, who is co-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stated, “Government regulators are targeting churches with different, more restrictive rules than retail businesses. It’s an outrageous overstep of government authority that infringes on basic First Amendment rights. I urge Governor Cooper to intervene and resolve this local government mess immediately and to relax his restrictions to allow the same occupancy standards for churches as he does for retailers.”
Britt, also a co-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stated, “I would expect to read these government ‘emergency’ orders in a history book about Mao’s China. But there they are, right on the homepages of North Carolina government. This is unspeakably disturbing.”
Perry stated, “I’m hearing from pastors all over my district about their foundational concern over government restrictions treating their churches differently than commercial establishments. I urge Governor Cooper to change these rules, and fast.”
The release also quotes US Attorney General William Barr who said, “Even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers. Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity.”
The City of Greensboro has taken a very different view of the stay-at-home restrictions than the US attorney general. Greensboro police officers have told a pastor and others that they cannot walk on a public sidewalk and pray because praying is a form of demonstration that is not allowed under the stay-at-home order.