North Carolina lawmakers today blasted government restrictions that allow retail stores to operate at limited capacity while prohibiting churches from operating under those same rules.
In North Carolina’s capital city, churches are prohibited from “distributing communion,” “handing out literature,” and collecting “tithes and offerings.” Yet restaurants are permitted to distribute food and beverage, and retail stores are permitted to accept cash payments.
Additionally, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s executive orders permit businesses to allow shoppers inside provided they do not exceed 20% of fire code capacity. But those same executive orders prohibit churches of identical square footage from allowing any more than 10 people inside.
Senator Warren Daniel (R-Burke), a co-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “Government regulators are targeting churches with different, more restrictive rules than retail businesses. It’s an outrageous overstep of government authority that infringes on basic First Amendment rights. I urge Governor Cooper to intervene and resolve this local government mess immediately and to relax his restrictions to allow the same occupancy standards for churches as he does for retailers.”
Senator Danny Britt (R-Robeson), a co-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “I would expect to read these government ’emergency’ orders in a history book about Mao’s China. But there they are, right on the homepages of North Carolina government. This is unspeakably disturbing.”
Senator Jim Perry (R-Lenoir) said, “I’m hearing from pastors all over my district about their foundational concern over government restrictions treating their churches differently than commercial establishments. I urge Governor Cooper to change these rules, and fast.”
In a recent statement about this general issue, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said, “Even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers. Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity.”