Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer stated that worship services are exempted from her recent executive order prohibiting gatherings of 50 or more people due to coronavirus concerns.
In an interview with “Fox News Sunday” anchor John Roberts, Whitmer explained that while she greatly discourages such gatherings in light of the pandemic, she believed the government did not have the right to order churches to close.
“Well, you know, the separation of church and state and the Republican legislature asked me to clarify that,” explained Whitmer, a Democrat.
“That's an area that we don't have the ability to directly enforce and control. We are encouraging people, though, do not congregate.”
The governor warned those considering attending church at this time that “you yourself can be carrying it and you might not even know it.”
“That'd be the worst thing in the world is to go to church to worship and to sit next to someone and infect them and have them suffer life-threatening consequences because of this decision,” she continued.
Whitmer also explained that one of the big challenges to fighting the virus in her state was that “we need more test kits.”
“It is hard to really make an educated decision and to know what you're really confronting without data and that all is reliant on test kits. We have too few test kits,” she said.
“We've, right now, got to prioritize those who are perhaps the most medically vulnerable for testing and that doesn't really give you enough data to feel like you're making decisions that are based on fact and science.”
Last week, Whitmer issued an executive order prohibiting "all assemblages of more than 50 people in a single indoor shared space and all events of more than 50 people," but later in the week added an exemption for "a place of religious worship."
Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, a Republican, took to his official Facebook page to thank the governor for clarifying that religious services were exempted.
"People have a God-given right to assemble and worship, and that right is secured by both the United States and Michigan Constitution. While I do not think that that right can be taken away by an Executive Order, I believe that as Christians we also have a duty to love our fellow man and play our role within society," stated Chatfield.
"At times, we cancel services because the meteorologist predicts inclement weather. Why do we do this? Because we want people to stay safe."
In response to the COVID-19 virus, large numbers of churches have canceled worship services and other gatherings to help curb the spread of the disease.
Instead, many churches have offered online and livestream alternatives to in-person, with some congregations reporting a record number of views on their online services.
For example, Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, broadcasted his sermons on Facebook, YouTube, Roku, AppleTV, and JoelOsteen.com.
“We saw 4.51 million people tune in throughout the weekend across platforms,” said the church in a statement shared with The Christian Post last week.
“This broke our previous record of 4.17 million in November of last year when we broadcast Kanye West’s Sunday service from Lakewood. This number could increase throughout the week.”
Others, including Pastor Greg Locke of Global Vision Bible Church in Tennessee, have refused for various reasons to close their churches in response to government orders and requests.
“Here at Global Vision, we do not believe that it is going to fit the context of who we are to close our services. We will continue to livestream but we are going, not in defiance, not in rebellion, we are going to remain open,” stated Locke.
“We will never shame any pastor or any congregation that feels the need to stop their services for now. But we don’t want to be shamed for staying open.”