Governor John Carney today issued updated guidance for churches, synagogues and mosques in Delaware – allowing them to expand worship services to 30 percent of stated fire code occupancy.
The decision to ease restrictions on houses of worship comes as an advocacy group prepares to file a federal lawsuit claiming the government’s actions are an infringement of constitutional rights.
Wilmington Attorney Thomas S. Neuberger intends to file a lawsuit in Federal District Court tomorrow on behalf of a group calling themselves “The Committee to Save Christmas.”
The group includes pastors such as Rev. Christopher Bullock and other members of the faith and business community, Neuberger said.
The revision to the state of emergency declaration, which takes effect at 8 am on Wednesday, was developed by the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) and the Delaware Council of Faith-Based Partnerships, allowing gatherings limited to only one event, one hour per week.
Strict social distancing must be maintained, cloth face coverings must be work by anyone over the age of 13.
“Tomorrow we sue”
Neuberger said the limitations on religious services was “outrageous,” as practice of faith is protected by the First Amendment. Neuberger negatively contrasted the restrictions on worship to other business activities that have been deemed essential and allowed to continue operations.
His list included law and accounting firms, media, grocery and big box stores, alcohol, beer and wine distributors, stock and investment brokers, the insurance industry and manufacturing.
“The discrimination has to end. There are 237 secular activities that are allowed full daily operation, with just social distancing, hand washing, cleaning,” said the attorney. “I can go on and on.”
Neuberger also said, “I would add that Carney says old people can go to Acme for groceries but never can go to church to worship God to feed their souls!”
“The governor has banned Holy Communion, the most sacred rite of Christianity. This shall not stand,” said Neuberger.
Church bulletins may not be distributed
The new rules say high-risk Delawareans, including those over 65-years-old, and anyone who is sick should not attend in-person services. Anyone 13-years-old or older must wear a face covering.
Service or gathering times must be staggered to permit cleaning of public spaces between services, in accordance with guidance from DPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Exchange of materials of any kind during services is strongly discouraged. Baptisms, weddings and funerals are permitted if the services can follow precautions in the updated guidance.
Under Governor Carney’s stay-at-home order, churches and other houses of worship are essential, but must adhere to basic safety precautions to protect congregants from COVID-19 infection and transmission.