As you know, MFI has been closely tracking the COVID-19 restrictions imposed on churches over the past year. In May of 2020, we helped a pastor in Worcester bring a lawsuit in federal court to avoid jail time for keeping his church open. That led within days to churches being reopened to 40% capacity across the Commonwealth. But now, a year later, almost to the day, churches are still stuck at only 50% capacity. (And depending on local enforcement tactics, some are restricted to even less!) Ten percent improvement over 12 months might be good for a retirement portfolio, but NOT when it comes to “permission” to attend church! Meanwhile, as we’ve been pointing out for the last month, restaurants have no capacity limit. They are required to maintain six feet of ‘social distancing’ between tables, but unlike in a church, you can take your mask off and have a full meal. Churches are prohibited from even having a coffee hour or other type of communal gathering after the service, while large events at secular establishments are now permitted.
New Life South Coast church in New Bedford meets in a huge facility; formerly a Shaws Supermarket. Unfortunately, they’ve been targeted by the city for some of the harshest treatment I’ve seen during this whole COVID debacle. In the fall of last year, the church reached out to MFI because the city had a local ordinance in place limiting all churches to 100 attendees, no matter the size of the sanctuary. We helped the church explain to the city that this restriction was not only illogical, especially in New Life’s case, but also ran counter to the Governor’s guidance of 50% capacity and recent Supreme Court decisions on that very issue. The city retracted their local policy, but then sent a team to ‘inspect’ the church and then imposed the most restrictive interpretation possible of the governor’s standards for churches. These local bureaucrats measured the square footage of every room and ordered the posting of notices on the walls with the following capacity restrictions:
As you can see, the city now limits the church to only 90 attendees in the sanctuary! Perhaps the city thought that would teach the church not to question their authority. Fortunately, New Life South Coast is not so easily deterred from their mission to reach as many souls as possible with the Gospel. Yesterday afternoon, they filed a lawsuit in federal court to have these unconstitutional and discriminatory restrictions on churches struck down. I am excited that MFI is helping them with this case and that we are joined by the national legal ministry of First Liberty Institute.
Although it appears that we’re almost out of the woods with all these COVID policies, the only consistency with the lockdown restrictions has been the inconsistency and unpredictability of the irrational policies foisted on all of us. We need to establish clear legal precedent not only for immediate relief, but to protect us from it happening again. I will keep you posted on this latest effort to defend the freedom to practice our faith here in the Commonwealth.
Click here for the latest MA COVID guidelines for churches.