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'We don’t want churches to become hotspots’: Cooper responds to lawsuit filed by NC religious leaders over executive order

Under the current guidelines, only outdoor church services are permitted.
Under the current guidelines, only outdoor church services are permitted.(WBTV File)
Updated: May. 14, 2020 at 3:56 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT/WNCN) - Governor Roy Cooper on Thursday responded to a lawsuit filed by some N.C. religious leaders who want to have worship services inside but an executive order is preventing that from happening.

A group called Return America filed the lawsuit. They said it has the support of more than 200 religious leaders across the state.

The leaders said Cooper’s COVID-19 executive order violates their constitutional rights.

As part of phase one of the state’s reopening, which we’re in now, gatherings of more than 10 people are not allowed – and that includes indoor worship services.

Despite the indoor limit, there’s no limit on people attending services outside as long as they maintain social distancing of at least six feet.

The group has argued that it’s wrong for the governor to allow stores to reopen at 50-percent capacity but not allow houses of worship to do the same.

During a Thursday afternoon news conference, Cooper said he had not read the lawsuit but the executive order had been drawn carefully to recommend first amendment protection.

“We don’t want churches to become hotspots for this virus - as we move forward through these phases, these restrictions will gradually be lifted and we’ll get to a point where there will be no restrictions,” Cooper said.

Cooper said he has missed the physical interaction — shaking hands, hugging, singing, preaching, taking communion — that comes with attending church.

“One fundamental tenet of faith is to care for and love one another. When doing these things together, sitting, or standing indoors for more than 10 minutes, we greatly increase the chances of passing to each other a virus that can be deadly," Cooper said.

The N.C. Sheriff’s Association unanimously approved a resolution last Friday requesting Gov. Cooper amend the executive order to allow indoor worship services if they adhere to similar requirements as retail businesses.

An attorney from the Christian Law Association said he filed the lawsuit this morning in federal court.

It’s not clear how soon a judge will consider the case.

Copyright 2020 WECT. All rights reserved. WNCN contributed to this report.