News: CJ Exclusives

Governor calls politicians irresponsible for promoting church gatherings

Gov. Roy Cooper at an April 17, 2020, COVID-19 briefing. (Pool photo)
Gov. Roy Cooper at an April 17, 2020, COVID-19 briefing. (Pool photo)

It’s irresponsible of some politicians to use faith to lure people into endangering themselves, their family, and their own congregation, Gov. Roy Cooper said during a Friday, April 17, news conference.

Cooper didn’t name names, but Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, is among those who have criticized county stay-at-home orders, such as Wake’s, that restrict religious activity. 

“In NC’s capital city: “No communion,” “no tithes,” “no [religious] literature.” Yet the same gov’t orders allow ppl to pay cash for take-out food after reviewing a menu at the local McDonalds,” Berger tweeted April 16. 

Wake County’s stay-at-home order is an outrageous and unconstitutional overstep of government authority, Berger said. 

Wake County has come under fire for prohibiting a drive-in Easter church service. The county’s new stay-at-home order, which extends to April 30, now allows drive-in services so long as cars are six feet apart and occupants are from a single household. But other religious restrictions remain including forbidding the personal collection of tithes, handing out literature, and distributing communion.

The controversy has grown. Thursday, Sen. Jim Perry, R-Lenoir, wrote Cooper, asking him to exempt religious services from the “mass gatherings” ban if congregants practiced social distancing.

U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop, R-9th District, says he plans to lead a rally Tuesday, April 21, at 11 a.m. at the Executive Mansion, along with the group ReopenNC, “to protest overreaching shutdown orders that limit our freedom.”

He urged protesters to practice social distancing.

While people may want to go to a church service, the federal and N.C. governments don’t recommend mass gatherings of more than 10 people, Cooper said. 

“When people gather together and are around each other for a long time, the evidence is overwhelming that the virus can spread so much more easily,” Cooper said. “Unfortunately, this has happened at churches in our state and in our country.”

The governor is missing the point, said Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Berger. 

“The problem is that his order and, more egregiously, the Wake County order, treat houses of worship differently from other establishments,” Ryan told Carolina Journal.

While a person is free to pick up food at a restaurant, under the Wake County order, the same person can’t accept communion from a place of worship, Ryan said. 

“There needs to be consistency,” Ryan said. “It is patently unconstitutional to have one set of rules for one building, and a different set of rules for the exact same building next door if it’s a house of worship.”