On Wednesday, the legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sent a letter to Dedham, Massachusetts, town officials urging them to rescind a cease-and-desist order barring Victory Baptist Church from convening meetings even if they have 10 or fewer people. According to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s COVID-19 emergency order, that size meeting is permissible, ADF noted.
The cease-and-desist order was sent to the church on May 6 after the church had announced starting on May 10 it would hold services with groups that small. The town sent the order on May 6 to Victory Baptist Church after the church announced on its website that it planned to start holding services of no more than 10 people each on May 10. The cease-and-desist order stated:
Whereas, Victory Baptist Church is not a business providing essential services pursuant to Exhibit A of COVID-19 Order No. 13; and whereas on May 6, 2020 was observed advertising for services to be held on May 10, 2020 in violation of COVID-19 Order No. 13. Whereby, you are hereby ordered to immediately cease and desist from operating Victory Baptist Church until such time as the government rescinds COVID-19 Order No. 13.
ADF reported that the church said if more than 10 people decided to attend a service, the church would add services so all of them would hold 10 or fewer people.
ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker commented, “The government can certainly concern itself with public health and safety, but it can’t target churches for special punishments that it doesn’t dole out to anyone else. It makes no sense for the town of Dedham to demand that this church refrain from meeting with 10 or fewer people when the governor’s executive order explicitly allows that gathering size. The only apparent explanation is that the town wants to harass this church.”
The church said it would require attendees to provide advance notice by text or online sign-up to attend “one of our social-distanced services,” limit the services to an hour at most, and create a one-hour period between services to perform a “deep sanitization” of the church after each service and at the conclusion of the final service. Other measures: taking each congregant’s temperature at the door with an infrared, non-contact thermometer and prohibiting anyone with a temperature of 99 degrees or above from entering the church, issuing and requiring congregants to wear latex- and powder-free gloves and a mask, spacing each chair eight feet apart, and providing no childcare.
ADF stated, “Victory Baptist did not host services last Sunday, but it plans to do so this coming Sunday, May 17, 2020, pursuant to the plans expressed in its previous announcement. And it should be permitted to do so without fear of disruption. For these reasons, we demand that the Board and Town of Dedham rescind the Order by 12:00 p.m. on May 14, 2020, and refrain from further harassment of this church.”
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