Last month, Los Angeles County officials reversed a ban prohibiting houses of worship from holding indoor and outdoor services, effective immediately. The decision was prompted by three recent Supreme Court rulings for places of worship. In all three cases, the high court sided with churches in Colorado, New Jersey and New York over state’s restrictions on worship gatherings issuing orders that vacated the lower court decisions in those cases.
In a 5/4 decision the judges ruled that effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty,
“It is time—past time—to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color–coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques.” Justice Gorsuch wrote in a concurring opinion on the New York case.
To that end, Los Angeles houses of worship will be permitted to offer faith-based services both indoors and outdoors with mandatory physical distancing and face coverings over both the nose and mouth that must be worn at all times while on site. Places of worship must also assure that attendance does not exceed the number of people who can be accommodated while maintaining a physical distance of six feet between separate households.
Most pastors, however, have stated that they will not be putting their congregants at risk.
“While this is great news, the priority for us to keep our members safe and in light of this recent surge, Weller Street Missionary Baptist Church is going to continue to practice protocols, worshipping online,” said Pastor K.W. Tulloss, who serves as president of the Baptist Minister’s Fellowship and believes he is not alone in that assessment.
Pastor Mike Fisher, who leads the Pastors of Compton, agrees.
“Everything that is permissible to do should not necessarily be done at that moment. So yes, it is our right to be able to have service and it’s lawful to have service, but I don’t think it’s expedient. We are called to protect our congregation and our flock. For us to expose our congregation to possible cases and positive diagnoses that we are literally watching kill bishops who have faith, pastors who have faith and parishioners who have faith. So this is not a matter of us honoring God by being in a church building.”
Pastor Shane Scott, however, knows the dangers of Coronavirus first-hand.
“On November 16 I tested positive for COVID-19 and I spent six days in the ICU so I’m very clear on the dangers of COVID,” Scott said.
“COVID is no respector of persons. We have to look out for the best interests of our people, and we have to trust God, but also trust the God in science and allow science and medical doctors to guide us through this season so I will not be opening up our church.
“For the pandemic of 1918, our church was closed for five years,” Scott continued. “I’m not suggesting it’s going to be closed that long this time. but the church also has to provide leadership. The church will survive this.”
Some churches like Bible Enrichment Fellowship are taking a “wait-and-see” stance.
“We will be using some of our facilities for smaller gatherings, but getting back to full use is going to be a gradual process starting sometime after our consecration month in January.”
Public health officials strongly recommend that places of worship continue to hold services outdoors, with physical distancing and the use of face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to congregants and to the entire community. And because Los Angeles County is experiencing an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, that every effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to congregants and to the entire community is critical.