Although 10 states currently prohibit churches from gathering in worship, most states have some sort of religious exemption and 15 states allow religious gatherings to continue without any limits, according to a new Pew Research Center study of the regulations in all 50 states.
Pew examined how social distancing requirements amid the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted religious gatherings in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Ten states prohibit in-person gatherings of any form: California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Washington, Idaho, Alaska, Minnesota, Montana and Vermont.
Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia specify in their orders that “religious gatherings can take place, but only if they are limited to 10 people or fewer,” Pew found. Two other states, Connecticut and Oregon, limit church gatherings to 50 and 25 people, respectively.
Fifteen states allow churches to continue gathering without any limits. Those states are Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Arkansas, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.
Restrictions in some states, including in California, have sparked lawsuits.
“Perhaps with such litigation in mind, most other states have carved out exemptions for religious gatherings in their stay-at-home orders or other directives in an attempt to balance religious freedom concerns with safe social distancing practices,” Pew’s Virginia Villa wrote in an analysis. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend that gatherings of more than 10 people be canceled, while in gatherings that do take place, individuals should remain at least 6 feet apart at all times.”
Most churches have ceased meeting in-person and have transitioned to online services or even drive-in services in the church parking lot. All total, seven states explicitly permit drive-in services, Pew found.
Pew’s analysis examined state-level restrictions as of April 24 and did not reflect any changes since then.
A LifeWay Research survey showed that by the end of March, 93 percent of churches nationwide had halted in-person gatherings.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.