NYC Mayor Threatens to Close Churches 'Permanently' for Meeting during Coronavirus

Michael Foust | CrosswalkHeadlines Contributor | Published: Mar 30, 2020
NYC Mayor Threatens to Close Churches 'Permanently' for Meeting during Coronavirus

NYC Mayor Threatens to Close Churches 'Permanently' for Meeting during Coronavirus

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio sparked a controversy over the weekend when he warned churches could be closed “permanently” if they meet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mayor, during his Friday press conference on the coronavirus response, said the “vast majority” of religious communities have “stopped their traditional worship service” in the face of the pandemic.

“We've had extraordinary support from the leaders of major Christian denominations,” de Blasio said. “We've had extraordinary across-the-board rabbinical support from all the different elements of the Jewish community. And the same is true of other faiths, as well.”

But a “small number” of religious communities – “specific churches, specific synagogues” – are “unfortunately not paying attention to this guidance,” he said.

The state of New York is under a shelter-in-place order.

The New York Police Department and Fire Department, de Blasio said, will enforce the order.

“Everyone has been instructed that if they see worship services ... going on, they will go to the officials of that congregation,” de Blasio said. “They will inform them they need to stop the services and disperse. If that does not happen, they will take additional action, up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently.”

The mayor emphasized that he hopes penalties will not be necessary.

“It's the last thing I would like to do, because I understand how important people's faiths are to them,” he said. “And we need our faiths in this time of crisis but we do not need gatherings that will endanger people. No faith tradition endorses anything that endangers the members of that faith.”

Nationwide, churches of every denomination have stopped meeting in-person. Many have said they were driven to do so out of a “love of neighbor.”

De Blasio’s threat of permanent closure received pushback on social media even from those who believe congregations should follow the government’s orders to stop the spread.

“Look, churches should not be meeting in the normal corporate way right now. Almost all of them are innovating in exciting ways. That's great. What De Blasio is suggesting here is like the 11th level of unconstitutional,” tweeted Casey Mattox, vice president of legal and judicial strategy at Americans for Prosperity.

Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, wrote on Twitter, “Dear @NYCMayor, these are trying times that can tempt any of us to rash action, but city mayors do not have the authority to suspend the First Amendment. Please clarify or correct your threat to close churches and synagogues permanently if they do not comply with your demands.”

Ken Ham, founder and president of Answers in Genesis, also spoke out against the mayor.

“It's a warning for the future when one person claims they have the power to close churches permanently,” Ham tweeted. “That's what we've seen in China & Cuba.”


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Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Stringer

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist PressChristianity TodayThe Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

NYC Mayor Threatens to Close Churches 'Permanently' for Meeting during Coronavirus