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Coronavirus update: Delaware pastor sues over church restrictions

Empty church pews

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As of Tuesday afternoon, there are 8,037 cases of coronavirus, an increase of 168 over yesterday. Seven more people have died from the virus, bringing the state’s total fatalities to 304. A total of 236 people are hospitalized, down four since yesterday.

Delaware pastor sues over church restrictions

In a federal lawsuit filed in Wilmington Tuesday morning, pastor Rev. Christopher Bullock claims Delaware’s limits on churches during the pandemic have unfairly affected small African American churches that don’t have the funds to transition to online services.

The lawsuit claims Bullock, who leads Canaan Baptist Church in New Castle, “is suffering ongoing irreparable harm and deprivation of his rights to the free exercise of religion, freedom of religious speech, religious assembly and religious association.”

The lawsuit seeks to overturn the limits on churches and limit Gov. John Carney and future governors from enforcing similar measures in the future.

Churches get guidelines on resuming services

Even though Carney’s emergency stay-at-home order never explicitly banned churches from holding services, the limit on gatherings to groups of ten people or less effectively closed all houses of worship in the state.

On Monday, Carney offered guidance to religious leaders on how to resume holding services safely as the state starts to relax those restrictions. That guidance includes limiting gatherings to 30% of maximum occupancy, maintaining six feet between individuals and enforcing mandatory face mask wearing for anyone over the age of 13. Those over the age of 65 and others at high risk should not attend.

“All of Delaware’s restrictions – including those inside our churches and other houses of worship – are intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” Carney said. “I know it’s difficult. Practicing your faith is a fundamental right. But Delawareans who are at higher risk should not attend in-person services.”

The state recommends “while singing during services is permitted, choirs are not to be utilized for singing during services.” The state says solos or duets can be performed as long as singers are 10 feet apart.

Carney’s guidance calls for a centralized collection location to be used rather than passing a collection plate. Religious leaders should wash or sanitize their hands before touching “consecrated or blessed food or drink,” according to the recommendations.

“There shall be no exchange of the elements person-to-person or use of a common cup. We understand that certain faiths may require Communion to be administered person-to-person. Unfortunately, this is not permitted at this time. No communal receptacles for congregants to bless themselves with holy water may be offered.”

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Taskforce to explore return to school

The Delaware Department of Education is forming three working groups to figure out how to safely reopen schools. Last month, Carney canceled the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

“These working groups will provide important recommendations to Secretary [Susan] Bunting and school and district leaders on how to safely return to school,” Carney said.

The three groups will look at health and wellness; academics and equity; and operations and service.

The working groups will include students and members of the General Assembly. They will make final recommendations to the Department of Education in July. The groups will continue to meet through September 2020 or another date selected by Sec. Bunting.

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