Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey – a public policy partner of Focus on the Family – on Wednesday sent a letter to Governor Phil Murphy, signed by 100 pastors who expressed their commitment to follow CDC and local health guidelines, and who asked to be included in Phase 1 of New Jersey’s reopening plan.
Currently, New Jersey’s Phase 1, which goes into effect on May 18, only allows for churches to hold outdoor services with congregants in cars.
The signatures were gathered in less than 24 hours in response to Governor Murphy’s subsequent announcement that he will begin to release “hard dates” for reopening by the end of the week.
To obtain signatures, Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey – a Christian advocacy organization – contacted pastors to communicate their shared commitment to exercise extraordinary care and precaution in protecting congregants who attend services.
Shawn Hyland, Director of Advocacy for the organization, offered the following statement:
“There is no greater commandment than to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves. People of faith should lead by example in their practice of safe social distancing recommendations. I believe local churches have done that, thanks to the leadership of pastors from across the Garden State.”
The letter cites both the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the preamble to the New Jersey Constitution as evidence of the “essential” status of houses of worship.
On this point Hyland added, “Temporary restrictions upon Constitutional rights in times of emergency are allowed, but the government must restrain its own power by ensuring these limits are the least restrictive means possible. Sadly, that is no longer the case. Until today, churches have been prohibited from holding drive in services, where congregants remain in their car, separate from all person-to-person contact, while other business entities continue to serve customers. We are thankful for Governor Murphy’s decision today to lift restrictions concerning drive-in worship services, but we urge him to allow the churches to open following the same safety guidelines as essential businesses.”
Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey hopes Governor Murphy will honor the respectful request of these pastors and allow them to safely reopen their doors when other essential “Phase One” reopenings are permitted.
The full letter is available for download here.