New York, New Jersey Among Multiple States to Exempt Churches From Stay-at-Home Orders

Multiple states under stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic include exemptions for religious gatherings, despite public health experts warning that the gatherings could help the virus to spread.

New York, the state with the most COVID-19 cases in the nation by far, has not restricted religious gatherings, although the state "strongly recommended" that in-person services not be held.

The states with the second and third most cases, New Jersey and Michigan, also include religious exemptions in their stay-at-home orders.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis exempted religious gatherings in his order while also preventing local authorities for making restrictions, saying he didn't "think the government has the authority to close a church."

Ohio, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina and West Virginia also have some form of religious exemption. In Louisiana, all gatherings of more than 10 people are banned without exception but traveling to and from religious services are exempted.

Republican lawmakers in Kansas revoked Governor Laura Kelly's directive to limited religious gatherings to 10 people on Wednesday, allowing services to take place without any limit on crowd size despite warnings from health experts.

Church Open Sign
Some U.S. churches are refusing to halt in-person services despite state government restrictions and the advice of public health experts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Alicia_Garcia/Getty

Some religious leaders in states without exemptions have ignored restrictions and held services regardless. Others have attempted to remedy matters through court. On Friday, a federal judge in California ruled against a pastor who was seeking an exemption for Easter church service.

In states where church services have been restricted, authorities have had some difficulty in convincing noncompliant houses of worship from following the rules. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear announced Friday that the state would be stepping up efforts to make sure in-person services remain paused, after a church service was thought to be the source of an outbreak last month.

"Any individual that's going to go to a mass gathering of any type that we know about this weekend, we are going to record license plates and provide it to local health departments," said Beshear at a press conference. "Local health departments are going to come to your door with an order for you to be quarantined for 14 days."

Most houses of worship in the U.S. have adapted to public health restrictions amid the pandemic. A host of leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other religious communities have advocated for online services as a replacement to help contain the spread of the virus.

President Donald Trump said weeks ago that he hoped churches would be "packed" on Easter. His recent advice, although not entirely clear, appears to have

"I know there are some pastors and ministers and others that want to get together, and I have great respect for them, I know two of them," Trump said during his Friday briefing. "I would say first, heal our country before we do this [attend in-person]."

"In the coming weeks, Americans should follow the guidance of scientists, especially epidemiologists, about the dangers of person-to-person contact," said Rabbi Jack Moline, President of Interfaith Alliance, in a statement. "Some may believe that their personal faith inoculates them against serious illness. But, at the risk of exacerbating this crisis, they should not test that belief at the expense of the general public. Religious conviction does not justify harming others."

Update 4/11, 11:30 p.m.: This article has been updated to include a statement from Interfaith Alliance.