BERLIN, N.J. (CBS) — Some faith communities in South Jersey say they’ve waited long enough. They want to reopen for church services despite their wishes running counter to what Gov. Phil Murphy says is allowed.
With sanctuary materials spaced out for social distancing, leaders from several South Jersey church congregations say they don’t care what the governor says, they’re holding services again.
“We didn’t make this decision lightly. We’re not acting irresponsibly or recklessly. We have taken measures to ensure our facilities are safe, they’re clean, our people are being socially distanced,” Pastor Andy Reese, with Bible Baptist Church of Clementon, said.
The pastors who gathered in Berlin are part of a growing trend of people who say houses of worship are essential services during a pandemic, and they believe it’s their constitutional right to gather.
“The church cannot stay closed. It’s wrong, it’s unconstitutional and it’s a discrimination against the churches. You cannot say those other places can be open and people can go inside of them, but the church must stay closed,” said Pastor Charles Clark III, with Solid Rock Baptist Church of Berlin.
But many churches do not plan to defy New Jersey’s executive order not to hold gatherings of more than 10 people.
In a message to Catholics just last week, Dennis Sullivan, the bishop of Camden, said the suspension of masses was just and necessary. He said there was not anti-religious pressure to do so.
“Canceling masses in times of pestilence has been done over the course of the history of the Catholic Church. Those who have gone before us may not have had the benefit of scientific evidence but they had common sense to separate when there was a need to do so,” Sullivan said.
Murphy says it may still be several weeks before indoor activities may resume.
“Inside, no ventilation, close contact, is a hard nut to crack. We’re just not there yet. We’re not there yet on gyms, we’re not there yet on indoor dining. Do we want to be there? Will we get there? Please God, yes,” Murphy said.
In several instances, the U.S. Department of Justice has sided with churches that challenge bans, including in California where they say it would be discriminatory to restore indoor activities and not include churches.