News: Quick Takes

Judge rules against Cooper in lawsuit limiting indoor worship services

Gov. Roy Cooper, at an April 24 COVID-19 briefing. (Pool photo)
Gov. Roy Cooper, at an April 24 COVID-19 briefing. (Pool photo)

UPDATED, 5:30 p.m.

The COVID-19 outbreak can’t be an excuse to outlaw most indoor worship services in North Carolina, a federal judge ruled Saturday, May 16.

U.S. District Judge James Dever issued a temporary restraining order preventing law enforcement from enforcing parts of executive orders Gov. Roy Cooper began issuing in March to limit the spread of COVID-19. The orders barred most indoor religious services unless inside worship was deemed “impossible” or against the tenets of a particular faith. Dever’s order, citing the religious freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, took effect immediately.

“There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution of the United States or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Dever wrote.

At issue was the distinction the stay-at-home orders — especially one issued May 5 — made between religious and other activities. While the orders allowed retail and other commercial behavior so long as health and safety guidelines were followed, the May 5 order said indoor worship services involving more than 10 people remained illegal. Indoor funerals were OK if they involved fewer than 50 people.

The governor’s legislative liaison, Lee Lilley, cited a May 7 “guidance letter” implementing the May 5 order which outlined why indoor worship services got special treatment.

Several local sheriffs, mainly outside the state’s urban centers, have said they wouldn’t enforce the order.

Dever noted the plaintiffs, including several churches and the nonprofit religious group Return America, argued “under pain of criminal prosecution, if the participant does not hold the State’s established religious belief or is not prepared to prove ‘impossibility,’ the participant must gather for worship outside when worshiping with more than 10 people.”

The plaintiffs demonstrated Thursday in Raleigh as they filed the lawsuit. They said their members would abide by social distancing and other health and safety guidelines.

Not good enough, Cooper’s attorneys said. They told the court the risk of infection is greater if people are indoors, seated or stationary for lengthy periods, and close to one another. Outdoor services or services held in parking lots didn’t post the same risks. Sheriffs or other law enforcement would decide if a service were legal.

“That’s a remarkable answer in light of the Free Exercise Clause,” Dever wrote.

The judge noted the odd distinction between worship services and other activities Cooper’s orders allowed.

“Eleven men and women can stand side by side working indoors Monday through Friday at a hospital, at a plant, or at a package distribution center and be trusted to follow social distancing and hygiene guidance, but those same 11 men and women cannot be trusted to do the same when they worship inside together on Saturday or Sunday.” Dever wrote.

The plaintiffs “simply want the Governor to afford them the same treatment as they and their fellow non-religious citizens receive when they work at a plant, clean an office, ride a bus, shop at a store, or mourn someone they love at a funeral.”

Dever ordered the state not to enforce the ban on indoor services. He scheduled a hearing for a preliminary injunction at the federal courthouse in Raleigh Friday, May 29.

In a statement, Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said the state would follow the order though the governor disagreed with it.

“We don’t want indoor meetings to become hotspots for the virus and our health experts continue to warn that large groups sitting together inside for long periods of time are much more likely to cause the spread of COVID-19. While our office disagrees with the decision, we will not appeal, but instead urge houses of worship and their leaders to voluntarily follow public health guidance to keep their members safe,” Porter said.

  • Joseph Bailey

    1. How many actual
    deaths are from COVID-19? There has been a lumping of deaths into the
    COVID-19 category because a patient “showed symptoms” and then died but
    does that mean COVID-19 was the agent of death? How many non-COVID-19
    deaths are being ignored right now? What are there figures???? Will we shutdown for them????

    The Northeast Corridor. The area of NJ-NY-MA and surrounding areas are
    over half of the recorded deaths so are we adjusting for geography and
    other variables that are propping up the hysteria over the deaths? Plus,
    our entire nation is being held hostage by the mess in the Northeast
    Corridor and the sheer rank and abject lack of leadership from all
    elected officials in those states and areas. Interesting how “red” or
    “purple” states are managing the pandemic and overall response to the
    “clear blue” states?????????? Seriously. Our nation does not need a
    litany of blah, blah, blah about NY.

    3. Travel. It
    is now clear beyond clear that travel bans are absolutely ESSENTIAL as a
    contagion-mitigation protocol. Had President Trump instituted a travel
    ban period from all countries the day he heard the word COVID-19 then
    death and infection rates would be close to zero. NYC and NY State
    should be cut off from all travel outright for a set time to further
    contain the spread of COVID-19. Governor Cooper would have been smart
    to ban all travel from flights from China from before the first mention
    of pandemic and certainly would have been smart to post the State Police
    at all roads into NC and stopped travel. This would have been a
    contagion-mitigation protocol that would have probably stopped COVID-19
    entering NC in its tracks. Even if it had only been for a set time like
    2-3 weeks. All airports excluding supply-chain flights should have
    been ordered to cease operations first thing-first thing.

    Nursing homes, the elderly and the role that both play in this current
    pandemic. The shocking horror of what NY State did with dumping infected
    patients into unprepared facilities = EXACTLY WHY CUOMO HAS RUN HIS
    MOUTH nonstop as a cover for his abject blunder that is perhaps truly
    “unprecedented” in healthcare history. The focus should have been on
    these facilities from the start of addressing this mess. And are we not
    seeing this play out in NC too? Protecting these facilities = breaking
    contagion-transmission were it stands. Sadly, how we treat our elderly,
    even those sorrier-than-shit from birth, is a reflection on the values
    that matter in our American culture.

    5. China. We
    watch as the communists either started this pandemic mess outright or
    certainly allowed both America and the world to be infected from their
    mishandling of the virus. It is time to end all supply chain connections
    to communist China, not Taiwan, just mainland communists. Go to a Cold
    War status of containment to work to break the regime outright and allow
    those freed-fighting protesters to take the day and begin a new China
    outright. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING GOOD FROM COMMUNISM but death and
    destruction yet we all watch in the USA as every last elected Democrat,
    from municipal to federal level, will never say the first negative word
    about communism. You remember that when you vote.

    Policy analysis is demonstrating why we all need to be “watchdogs”
    regarding all legislation arising from COVID-19 response. The PPP is a
    perfect example of truly great principles and aspirations but ABJECT
    FAILURE IN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF IT. Trump is going to suffer electoral
    defeat from this one program if his administration does not get their
    act straight on its implementation and that spells real trouble because
    not one Democrat anywhere has any idea what they are doing about the

    7. Wisconsin State Supreme Court
    ruling rolling back gubernatorial powers nailed it. Emergency Orders
    from any governor is not meant to be a “rule by decree” polity but a set
    time moment until the state legislature can convene and play their role
    in responding to the emergency. Governor Cooper, like all 49 others
    (both Dem and GOP) are BLIND-ASS DRUNK on their power-grab of executive
    authority and rule by decree. BLIND-ASS!!!! This is the single-worst
    action regarding the polity in American history topped only by how
    slavery required a civil war to be rid of it. Every resident of NC and
    all Americans must make it their mission to protest, however they can,
    every last action of all 50 governors and demand a return to rule-of-law
    or there will be no NC or USA left at all.

    attack on the Right to Assembly is taking place right before our eyes
    and only now are the protests building to reassert and reinstate that
    right. Hopefully, Americans everywhere will now begin to understand why
    that right was written into the US Constitution and why it is a BEDROCK
    RIGHT in the First Amendment. It is more important than the right to
    bear arms and please, spare me, as the right to assembly is the core DNA
    of Liberty, democracy, a Constitutional-based republic, you name it. It
    is BULLSEYE DEAD-CENTER of everything regarding the American ethos,
    culture, everything and without it there is only tyranny, nothing else.

    right is directly correlated with the right to freedom of worship and
    thankfully a legal challenge to Cooper’s drunk power-grab over religious
    liberty has begun and the ruling says it all. The response to the
    pandemic is just the beginning of absolute government control over how
    to worship, when, whether or not it is “legal,” the correct theology and
    if you people do not see this point regarding theology then you are
    beyond blind. Liberals will now use the government to assert control
    over all religious bodies and institutions that they deem a “threat” to
    public health. They will argue that if any religious teaching so much as
    remotely produces a negative mental health reaction in a demographic of
    the polity that they will have the right to “shutdown” that church,
    denomination, so forth in the “name of public health.”

    municipality in NC is facing bankruptcy and outright insolvency with
    this insanity of a shutdown. Until the full measure of what Cooper did
    is known and sinks in many will think his actions were correct but
    wrong. NC will be 2-5 years or more recovering and some municipalities
    will be a decade or more before full recovery. The impact upon the
    various services and roles that municipalities play in NC will start to
    show later this year and their insolvency will create both a fiscal and
    electoral CATASTROPHE by next year forward.

    our elected leaders are not put into office to “defer” to alleged
    “experts.” They are elected to do the bidding and job for We the People.
    Which means that must make decisions that can use “expert” advice but
    go beyond passing-the-buck of authority to the “expert.” If you are a
    citizen out of work, your business shut down, so forth and you are not
    actively working NOW to see every office-holder voted out who supported
    anything with the shutdown then you have no business working, running a
    business or voting

  • It’s a coup attempt

    Unfortunately very few churches took advantage of the break from tyranny. I guess their congregations worship Cooper instead of Christ. Just more fake conservatives.

    • QuitBS

      You are a fool. You have a history of making foolish comments. Seek help, all counties have mental health departments.