Vice President Mike Pence says he supports a Virginia church in its legal battle against the governor for restrictions against houses of worship.
Lighthouse Fellowship Church of Chincoteague sued the state in federal court after its pastor was issued a criminal citation for holding a 16-person church service on Palm Sunday inside a 225-seat sanctuary, Christian Headlines previously reported. Each attendee reportedly sat at least six feet apart and followed health guidelines.
Orders by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam restrict mass gatherings to 10 people during the coronavirus pandemic.
Pence said he backs a Department of Justice Statement of Interest urging the court to issue an injunction favoring the church. He and the Department “strongly agree” that “even in the midst of a national emergency, every American enjoys our cherished liberties, including the freedom of religion.”
“And the very idea that the Commonwealth of Virginia would sanction a church for having 16 people come to a Psalm Sunday service when … the church actually seats about 250 was just beyond the pale,” Pence told The Brian Kilmeade Show. “And I'm truly grateful for Attorney General [William] Barr standing by religious liberty.”
The Trump administration, Pence said, will “stand by men and women of faith of every religion in this country and … even in this challenging time, [will] protect their freedom of religion.”
Meanwhile, nearly 200 pastors have signed a letter urging Northam to modify his orders and allow, at minimum, weekly gatherings by religious organizations, “provided reasonable public-health precautions are taken.”
The pastors said their churches would disinfect hard surfaces, abstain from physical contact, provide sanitizer to attendees, require six feet of distance between individuals, encourage the sick and vulnerable to stay home, and close nurseries and Sunday School classes. This “would fulfill the Executive Orders’ goal of protecting public health while also permitting us to satisfy our religious obligations and serve the spiritual needs of our communities,” the letter says.
“These gatherings are one of the means God uses to heal and restore our souls – they are part of God’s treatment plan for the spiritually sick,” the letter reads. “The longer the government bars Christians from meeting, the more damage is done to the spiritual well-being of Virginians in need of spiritual care during this difficult time.
“Because corporate worship is central to Christian life, it is extraordinary for churches to forego meeting for even a single Sunday,” the letter says. “Thus, with each passing week that corporate worship is banned, as churches stand ready to implement reasonable public-health precautions, the government pushes Christians closer to the point where they must choose to sin against God and conscience or violate the law.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Alex Wong/Staff
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.