Churches say Mass. city's 10-person limit too extreme, plan to defy mayor’s restrictions

Unsplash/Debby Hudson
Unsplash/Debby Hudson

A group of Massachusetts churches are planning to hold in-person worship services with more than 10 people on Sunday, despite a local city's order prohibiting mass religious gatherings.

Even though Gov. Charlie Baker is allowing churches to hold indoor services with 40% capacity, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone issued an order banning worship gatherings of more than 10 people.

The four churches — Igreja Comunidade Batista Shalom Internacional, Christian Fellowship of Boston, International Church, and Safe House Baptist Church — have expressed their intention to hold services with more than 10 people on Sunday.

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They're being represented by First Liberty Institute and the Massachusetts Family Institute, which sent a letter to Curtatone on Wednesday, which detailed their plans to follow social distancing guidelines.

"The Churches have developed a plan … to safely and prudently reopen their facilities in accordance with Guidance issued by the Center for Disease Control (‘CDC Guidelines'), DLS Standards, and Order 33's General Workplace Safety Rules," read the letter, in part.

"For instance, the Churches will limit occupancy to 40 percent of their maximum permitted occupancy level, counting every person, including staff, in each church. The Churches will also instruct members and staff that if they are feeling sick or have been exposed to someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 that they should not attend in-person."

Jeremy Dys of First Liberty said in a statement that the city's restrictions "would prevent even Jesus and the twelve disciples from lawfully gathering in Somerville."

"If thousands of people can peacefully protest in the streets under the First Amendment, certainly churches are able to safely resume in-person religious gatherings," Dys said.

The four churches and the groups representing them are not the only ones taking issue with the 10-person limit being imposed in Somerville.

C.J. Doyle, head of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, also denounced the city's restriction as "very extreme," "unwarranted," and "constitutionally very dubious."

"There's nothing in the Bill of Rights that says these rights will be upheld except in a public health emergency," said Doyle, according to CBS Boston.

For his part, Curtatone has defended the 10-person limit, telling CBS Boston that he was working with faith leaders to determine when he could safely lift the worship restriction.

"We need to make sure as we reactivate these different sectors of our lives they don't contribute to this pandemic. All these faith leaders are seeing that," the mayor said.

"Every church, every house of worship, every temple is a different size and scale, and we'll be working on individually tailored site safety plans for all of them."

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