Dr. David K. Bernard, Chairman • May 21, 2020
During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have sought to follow medical advice and governmental guidelines. In many places, churches can now resume services on campus. We have developed guidelines for reopening, which are available here. When making this decision, churches should consider several factors: the health and safety of church and community members, concerns of church members, state and local government guidelines, possible legal penalties for failure to follow guidelines, liability insurance coverage when guidelines aren’t followed, and public relations. Of course, some areas are more affected than others. For example, many churches in New York City have been significantly impacted, with one losing twelve members to Covid-19. Recently, two denominational churches in Texas and Georgia reopened services pursuant to state guidelines but had to stop them because of new infections in their congregations including the death of a pastor. When churches deem that they can resume services, it is advisable to adopt written guidelines and provide them to the congregation.
In the US and Canada, we enjoy religious freedom, which we must be vigilant to defend. In a time of crisis our governments can exercise some emergency powers but only with certain conditions. Under US constitutional law the government is limited by the following three rules when its actions affect churches: it must have a compelling interest (such as an emergency), it must use the least restrictive means of accomplishing its valid purpose, and it cannot discriminate against or target churches. It appears that certain governments have not followed these guidelines. In these situations, I have advised leaders to petition for a change of policies and to work with a coalition of churches for this purpose. If these efforts prove insufficient, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit. To protect our rights, the NACLC is partnering with both the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the UPCI (United Pentecostal Church International). In California, many churches are participating in a broad coalition with the goal of resuming services on May 31 pursuant to the NACLC guidelines. To protect religious freedom, one church has joined with a Jewish synagogue to file a lawsuit against the state. Significantly, the US Department of Justice has intervened on behalf of this lawsuit. For more information, read the DOJ’s letter here.