Pastor Bradford Winship
Jersey Shore EvangelicalMinisters Fellowship
1 Matawan Road
Laurence Harbor, NJ 08879
April 20, 2020
The Honorable Phil Murphy
Governor of New Jersey
Office of Governor
PO Box 001
Trenton, NJ 08625
Dear Governor Murphy:
During this time of pandemic, thechurches pray that you will be blessed with wisdom and personal good health.
The churches are requestingclarification on your executive orders with regard to church services. Within your orders, there were no referencesto the churches except for an allowance that residents may “leave the home foran educational, religious, or political reason.” This has created some confusion concerning whetherto classify the church as an essential or non-essential entity.
Obviously, the churches are ready tomake every effort to aid the state in mitigating the effects of COVID-19. After weeks of media coverage, churchleadership has become well aware of the safety requirements. To accommodate, most churches can provideonline worship services as well as on-location services with safe socialdistancing (up to 10-20 feet spacing) for those members who have need forin-person worship. Churches that cannot meet the health requirements arecertainly out of the question.
Many Catholic churches are unlockingtheir doors and allowing congregants to enter for prayer as long as they wear facecoverings and sit in designated seating.
Not only is the church “essential” inthe legal sense of the word, but the church can meet all requirements imposedupon essential businesses. In fact,churches can provide much better social distancing and cleaning procedures thanthe typical essential business (warehouse, office or grocery store). Church services also impose less risk because churchesmeet only weekly for one hour while most essential businesses meet daily foreight hours. Also, similar to essentialbusinesses, church attendance is predominately a consistent, well-monitoredgroup.
In addition to being able to meet allhealth requirements put upon essential businesses, like the media, the churcheshave special first amendment rights.
On Tuesday, April 14, AttorneyGeneral William Barr issued a statement regarding certain states that were prohibitingchurch services. In short,
(A) “Even in times of emergency, whenreasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendmentand federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religiousinstitutions and religious believers.”
(B) Regarding executive orders uponthe churches, state governments must establish that its actions are “the leastrestrictive means of achieving a compelling governmental interest.”
(C) “Government may not imposespecial restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similarnonreligious activity.”
Finally, there is a mental/socialnecessity for church meetings. For many members, the church is their onlyfamily. The same mental health rationalefor keeping liquor stores open should also be applied to AA meetings, groupcounseling and church meetings.
This request for clarification is notan appeal to allow churches to return to normal operations, but for The Stateof New Jersey to classify the church services as an essential social serviceunder the same regulations as essential retail, office, warehousing,manufacturing, construction businesses, etc. As an essential service, the church can fulfill Order 107.11 and “make best efforts to reducestaff [congregants] on site to the minimal number necessary to ensure thatessential operations can continue.” This can be done by encouraging most churchcongregants to participate online.
We ask you, as Governor, to issue aspecific order with regard to the churches since it is questionable as towhether the State Director of Emergency Management, or any other local official,has the authority to make rulings or interpretations in the absence of anymention of churches in your executive orders.
Pastor Bradford Winship
Jersey Shore Evangelical MinistersFellowship
CC Matthew J. Platkin – Chief Counsel to theGovernor
GurbirGrewal – NJ State Attorney General