While one megachurch in Oklahoma resumed services this week, a small congregation in Massachusetts is facing legal troubles for doing the same.
At the behest of Nick White, the pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Dedham, the conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to the town’s board of health, demanding the officials rescind the cease-and-desist letter sent to the place of worship last week.
The members of the Dedham Board of Health emailed a letter to White last Wednesday, May 6, ordering him to not reopen his church building after he announced plans to hold in-person worship services Sunday, May 10 — each with no more than 10 congregants, meeting the coronavirus-induced limits mandated by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R).
In the letter, the board demanded White cancel services “immediately,” arguing the church is “not a business providing essential services.”
According to ADF, though, the church was well within its rights. White planned to add as many services as necessary to ensure no more than 10 people were ever gathered in the sanctuary at once, falling well within Baker’s March 23 order.
White also required congregants to provide advanced notice via text message or an online sign-up sheet in order to attend one of the church’s “social-distanced services,” which were limited to one hour in length followed by an hour of “deep sanitization” to prepare the space for the next event. The church also check attendees’ temperatures with an infrared, no-contact thermometer, barring anyone with a temperature of 99 degrees or higher from attending a service. Congregants, seated eight feet apart from one another, were required to wear latex gloves and cloth masks, too.
“The government can certainly concern itself with public health and safety, but it can’t target churches for special punishments that it doesn’t dole out to anyone else,” said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker. “It makes no sense for the town of Dedham to demand that this church refrain from meeting with 10 or fewer people when the governor’s executive order explicitly allows that gathering size. The only apparent explanation is that the town wants to harass this church.”
As a result of the board’s letter, the church did not end up holding services Sunday, May 10. However, according to ADF, the Victory Baptist pastor is planning to hold services this Sunday, May 17.
The New Boston Post reached out to Town Counsel Lauren Goldberg, who declined to offer a statement on the matter.