Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) issued a stay-at-home order Wednesday, defending churches as “essential,” arguing before reporters at a Thursday press conference that the government holds no authority to close churches – noting what a critical role they play “in times like this” that are plagued by the coronavirus.
As cruise ships filled with COVID-19-infected passengers got the go-ahead to dock in Florida this week after being ordered to stay out at sea, DeSantis was hard-pressed to take additional steps to protect citizens in the Sunshine State and listed off church services as one of the first of a number of activities that will be allowed on the condition of social distancing.
“[A]ll persons in Florida shall limit their movements and personal interactions outside of their home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities,” the order reads. “For purposes of this Order and the conduct it limits, ‘essential activities’ means and encompasses the following: attending religious services conducted in churches, synagogues and houses of worship; and participating in recreational activities (consistent with social distancing guidelines) such as walking, biking, hiking, fishing, hunting, running or swimming; and taking care of pets; and caring for or otherwise assisting a loved one or friend.”
Still freedom to worship
DeSantis impressed to reporters that he established an understanding “very early on” with churches and synagogues, requesting them to conduct their worship services so that they will “be conducive to this overall mission” to help get through the coronavirus pandemic.
“One, I don’t think the government has the authority to close a church – I’m certainly not going to do that,” the governor said at the press conference, according to Breitbart News. “At the same time, we got with the churches and synagogues very early and said in times like this, what you guys are doing, I think, is even more important, but we ask that you do it in a way that is going to be conducive to this overall mission, and I would say almost all of them 100% agree. Some have gone virtual, some have had people, but they’ve been spread out far enough.”
He implied church activities are just as crucial as the press conference at which he was speaking.
“I mean you guys are spread out, you know, here in this press conference,” DeSantis asserted. “There’s no reason why you couldn’t do a church service with people 10 feet apart, so, we definitely asked them to absolutely abide by the social distancing guidelines.”
The Florida Republican emphasized how vital religious services are during a crisis.
“In times like this, I think the service they’re performing is going to be very important for people – especially when you have difficult circumstances and so do it right,” DeSantis stressed. “Make sure that you’re following the mission, but I think – particularly coming up in the Easter season – I think people are going to want to have access to religious services, whether it’s online, whether it’s in a more socially distant type of service. But to have that available, I think, is very important.”
He also mentioned that President Donald Trump was on the same page with him regarding his decision to move forward with the order.
“I did speak with the president about it,” DeSantis added. “He agreed with the approach of focusing on the hot spots, but at the same time, he understood that this is another 30-day situation, and you gotta just do what makes the most sense.”
Texas nods to churches, too
Another champion of religious freedom, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas), also considered religious services as essential and took a bold step by issuing an executive order on March 31 that encouraged churches to meet virtually via online services, while permitting churches to meet traditionally – if unable to have online services.
“If religious services cannot be conducted from home or through remote services, they should be conducted consistent with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC by practicing good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, and sanitation, and by implementing social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott’s executive order states.
The orders by DeSantis and Abbott to allow religious services in their states could set a new trend across America countering another trend that saw a number of states cracking down on pastors who have continued to hold traditional church services against stay-at-home directives.